BORIS TALKS WITH BIDEN

The Express reports: Boris Johnson has spoken with US President Joe Biden, Downing Street has confirmed, with the global fight against coronavirus and the vaccine rollout programme top of the agenda. A Downing Street spokeswoman said: ‘The Prime Minister spoke to President Joe Biden this afternoon. The leaders discussed the fight against coronavirus and updated each other on their countries’ vaccine rollouts.  Mr Biden ruffled feathers during his first press conference as US President after indirectly referring to the Irish potato famine, and perhaps mindful of this, Mr Johnson had taken the opportunity to discuss the importance of peace in Northern Ireland.Both  leaders  also reiterated their shared commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

 

NICKS’S IN THE NICK

The Guardian reports that a senior army officer has been jailed for 21 months for falsely claiming almost £50,000 in allowances to pay for his children’s boarding school fees. Maj Gen Nick Welch, who is believed to be the most senior officer to face a court martial since 1815, was convicted of a single charge of fraud following a four-week trial at Bulford military court in Wiltshire. Judge advocate general Alan Large said the panel of senior officers sentenced Welch, on the basis the defendant behaved dishonestly throughout.  As well as the custodial sentence, to be served in a civilian prison, Welch was retrospectively dismissed from the army, meaning he will not be able to benefit from the rank of retired major general. He was also ordered to pay back the fraudulently claimed money.

 

PROTESTS  CONTINUE  IN BRISTOL

From the Telegraph: Protesters launched glass bottles and eggs at police in Bristol on Friday night as more than 1,000 people came out for the third time in under a week for another ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstration. Avon and Somerset Police said arrests were made after projectiles were thrown at officers. Demonstrators had amassed in the city centre to show their opposition to the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will see the police handed new powers to tackle demonstrations. For several hours a group of more than 1,000 protesters wended their way through the often small back streets of the city without any clear route or destination. At around 10pm police began to move in on demonstrators who had gathered outside Bridewell Police Station, which had been attacked by protesters on Sunday night.

 

YOUNG PEOPLE DEMAND SCHOOLS REFORM THEIR CURRICULUM

The Guardian reports that hundreds of schools across England are reforming their curriculum to reflect the achievements of black and minority ethnic people and address the harmful legacy of colonialism after a groundswell of demand from young people. In the absence of government-led change to the national curriculum, grassroots groups have offered schemes to help schools improve. More than 660 schools in England have signed up to a diverse and anti-racist curriculum developed by teachers and council staff in the London borough of Hackney, for example. Titled the Diverse Curriculum – the Black Contribution, it provides pupils aged five to 14 with nine weeks of lessons on subjects including the Windrush generation, activism, British identity, and diversity in the arts and science.

 

PUPILS DEFEND TEACHERS ACTIONS

The Times reports that a petition to save the job of a teacher suspended for showing a class a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad has received thousands of signatures after pupils defended his actions. The petition was set up by children at Batley Grammar School, near Bradford, which remained closed on Thursday and switched to online learning as a second day of protests took place outside. Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, criticised the demonstrations and said it was very disturbing that the teacher was now in hiding. It comes after Gavin Williamson’s education department said such protests were completely unacceptable.

 

PATEL PLANS TO SPEED UP DEPORTATION OF FOREGN CRIMINALS

The Times reports that Priti Patel will bring in powers to speed up the deportation of foreign criminals in prisons and the 10,000 freed inmates who are eligible for removal. The home secretary will expand the early removal scheme (ERS) to allow such prisoners to be deported up to a year before the end of their sentence. At present the limit is nine months. There are more than 9,000 foreign criminals in jails in England and Wales, more than a tenth of all inmates. When foreign offenders are released from prison before deportation arrangements have been made, it becomes harder for the authorities to keep track of them and implement removal orders. The number of freed foreign criminals eligible for deportation is 10,373 which is  a record high.

 

POLICE WON’T STOP OR ARREST HOLIDAY BAN BREAKERS

From the Daily Mail: People leaving the country in breach of the Government’s holiday ban will not be stopped or arrested by police, a senior officer has confirmed. Under the new coronavirus regulations coming into force on Monday, people leaving England without a valid reason could face a £5,000 fine. National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would hand out the penalties to anyone found flouting the rules to go on holiday. However, he said barring anyone from travelling is a matter for the UK Border Force, adding:  We are not simply going to arrest people because they are trying to leave the country.’

 

CAMERON CLEARED BY WATCHDOG

The London Evening Standard reports that former  Prime Minister David Cameron has been cleared of breaking lobbying rules following claims he tried to persuade Government figures to grant loans to a financial firm he worked for. The investigation by the lobbying watchdog concluded that Mr Cameron was an employee of Greensill Capital and so was not required to declare himself on the register of consultant lobbyists. His activities were investigated by Harry Rich, the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists – a post set up in legislation passed by Mr Cameron’s Government in 2014.

 

RALLY TO OUR FLAG SAYS ALEX SALMOND

The London Evening Standard reports that Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond is seeking to make a dramatic return to Holyrood as the leader of the new pro-independence Alba Party. Mr Salmond confirmed he will be standing for the party on the North East regional list section in May’s Scottish Parliament election. Launching the new party in an online event, the former SNP leader said: Today Alba are hoisting a flag in the wind, planting our Saltire on a hill. In the next few weeks we will see how many will rally to our standard.”

 

SCOTS NOT BOTHERED BY RECENT HOLYROOD ROW

The Daily Record writes that a new opinion poll has shown that Scots would only vote to be an independent country if they knew membership of the European Union was guaranteed. The survey, conducted by Survation, shows that 53 per cent of the more than 2,000 people asked would agree to separation from the UK if joining the EU was granted. If the guarantee is removed then 51 per cent of voters would answer No if the question asked was, should Scotland be an independent country? Polling guru Professor Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University said the latest poll shows how split Scots are on the constitutional question and added, ‘all the polls are roughly around 50/50 at the moment and there is increasing evidence the whole row has not made much difference.’

 

TAKE CARE SAYS FORMER FIRST MINISTER – NI  VIOLENCE COULD RETURN

The Independent reports that a Unionist leader is warning of violence returning to Northern Ireland, claiming Brexit is being used to force through huge political change without consent. Peter Robinson, a former First Minister at Stormont, said leaders must recognise the odour of betrayal in the air, saying: ‘We all know where that leads.’ The Northern Ireland Protocol – which has created a trade border in the Irish Sea to protect the EU single market – would lead to laws in the province being made in a Dublin-influenced EU, Unionists fear. ‘There are forces using the exigencies of Brexit to advance a programme of constitutional change through stealth and propaganda,’ Mr Robinson said in a newspaper article. ‘My advice to those who are driving this agenda forward is as short as it is restrained. Take care.’

 

RIFFING OFF EACH OTHER BETTER THAN WORKING FROM HOME SAYS SUNAK

From the Telegraph: Workers must be allowed to return to the office or they may vote with their feet and quit, the Chancellor has warned. Rishi Sunak has declared working from home inferior to convening with colleagues in the workplace, which fosters meetings that happen by chance and people riffing off each other. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he urged companies that have benefitted from the pandemic, collectively amassing cash reserves of more than £100 billion, to embark on an investment and hiring spree to fuel the economic recovery. 

 

AND FINALLY

From the Telegraph: GCHQ has released its toughest ever puzzle to commemorate the launch of the new Alan Turing £50 note.The 12-part puzzle on GCHQ’s website is based on imagery and wording from the new £50 note, unveiled  by the Bank of England. Printed on the image of a line of ticker tape – denoting the paper tape used by code breakers in Bletchley Park during the Second World War – are a series of ones and zeros. The binary code, once converted into ordinary decimal figures, will reveal a date held in special regard by Britain’s modern day cyber spies.

 

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