UNION FLAG  AGREEMENT CAUSES ROW IN SCOTLAND

The Express reports that a furious row has erupted after the SNP slated UK Government plans to put the Union flag on British driving licences and number plates as the EU flag is removed. Grant  Shapps, the Transport Secretary, says the change helps to mark one year since the UK’s exit from the EU on 31st January 2020. A recently signed deal with the EU means UK drivers who hold photocard licences will not need an international driving permit to drive in any of the 27 EU member states as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland or Liechtenstein. Alongside this, British drivers won’t need to display a GB sticker in most EU countries if their number plate has GB or GB with a Union Flag on it. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Changing the designs of our driving licences and number plates is a historic moment for British motorists, and a reassertion of our independence from the EU one year on from our departure.”

 

BRUISING WEEK FOR LABOUR LEADER

The Times reports: He may be regarded as one of the most reviled men in Britain, but Piers Morgan seems to have greater appeal among lapsed Labour voters than Sir Keir Starmer. That, at least, is the fear that has taken hold among members of the leader’s top team. Their efforts to win back voters in Red Wall seats, who deserted Labour at the last election, are not bearing fruit.Even Piers Morgan has more traction with these voters to criticise this government than we do, a Labour source said. Our problem is that the public  wants Boris Johnson to do well . They think he’s had a really bad hand and they want him to succeed. We haven’t got permission to be in the room.

 

STARMER FACING BACKLASH OVER FRONT BENCH COVID COMMENTS

From the Daily Mail: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is facing a backlash after one of his most senior frontbenchers described the Covid pandemic as a ‘gift that keeps on giving’ for lawyers. Lord Falconer, the Shadow Attorney General, used the phrase during a briefing for a top City firm staffed by millionaire lawyers. The peer insists that he was referring to changes in the law triggered by the crisis, but a source close to the Labour grandee said that he regretted his choice of words. Last night, Lord Falconer’s comments were seized on by the Conservatives, with party chairman Amanda Milling describing it as a ‘troubling’ example of Labour’s approach to the pandemic. As well as being a full-time member of the Shadow Cabinet, Lord Falconer – who served as Tony Blair’s Lord Chancellor – is a partner at the international law firm Gibson Dunn, where his duties have included leading its Covid-19 UK Task Force.

 

UNPAID RENT WORRIES FOR RETAILERS AND RESTAURATEURS

The Times reports that restaurateurs and retailers are speeding towards a cliff-edge in spring if landlords are once again allowed to evict tenants over unpaid rent, struggling firms warned this weekend. They also face the end of business rates relief. More than 660,000 hospitality and 170,000 retail jobs have already been lost. There are fears those numbers could rocket in April when the moratorium on evictions is due to end and companies are forced to restart business rates payments after a 12-month holiday. There is still no certainty as to when hospitality and retail operators will be able to reopen.

 

BREXIT DEAL PAVES WAY FOR EU ARMY

The Express writes: Tony Blair and former French president Jacques Chirac signed a declaration, which called for the creation of a European force of up to 60,000 troops and the Brexit deal signed by Boris Johnson has helped pave the way for a European army. Prior to Brexit  the UK was linked to a series of EU military structures including the European Defence Fund, Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and the European Defence Agency and Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) which some critics see as the beginning of an EU army. The UK did push for a greater Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) under former Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 1999, Mr Blair and former French president Chirac signed the Saint-Malo Declaration, which was designed to bolster the EU’s ability to conduct autonomous military operations.A year later, as a direct consequence of the Saint-Malo summit, a “Headline Goal” was formulated in Helsinki, setting 2003 as a target date for the creation of a European force of up to 60,000 troops.

 

HOSPITAL NAME TO HONOUR CAPTAIN SIR TOM MOORE

From The Mirror: a new hospital could be named in Captain Sir Tom Moore’s honour and is reportedly in the works as Downing Street considers ideas of a fitting permanent memorial. The WW2 veteran, who captured the hearts of the nation with his incredible NHS fundraising during the first wave of the  coronavirus  pandemic, died on Tuesday at the age of 100 after a brief battle with Covid-19 and pneumonia. Boris Johnsonhas informed the Moore family that he is “enthusiastically looking” at plans for a permanent memorial. The family will have the final say after consultation with ministers. A Number 10 source  is reported as saying that people are very keen to see a lasting tribute to his fantastic achievement and naming a hospital in his honour feels like a great idea.

 

DENTAL  TREATMENT  DIFFICULT TO ACCESS

The Guardian reports that patients are facing a hidden national dentistry crisis fuelled by the pandemic that will lead to a rise in oral cancer in coming months and years, dentists and patient advocates say. People who need urgent dental treatment are struggling to find any NHS treatment in all parts of England, according to Healthwatch, the independent patient watchdog. Senior dentist leaders say surgeries are being incentivised not to deal with the most serious cases and that the profession has been affected by EU dentists leaving the UK. Last year the number of calls and complaints about dentistry rose by 452%. Before Covid-19, one in 10 people could not access dental services. “Since the pandemic, we have been hearing about access to dentistry from people in all parts of the country.

 

NO TO BBC LICENCE FEE

The Express reports that the majority of the public no longer want to pay the BBC licence fee and the impartiality of the broadcaster is in grave doubt, according to exclusive research. Polling found that well over half (56 percent) of respondents would support getting rid of the licence fee and having the BBC switch to a subscription-based model. Fewer than one in five people (19 percent) were opposed to scrapping the licence fee, which now costs £157.50 a year. The findings have triggered new calls for the licence fee to be axed. The polling of 1,700 people by Redfield & Wilton Strategies also reveals the widespread belief that the BBC has failed to be unbiased in its reporting. Almost half of people (47 percent) said the BBC has failed to be impartial in its news coverage in recent years, while fewer than three out of 10 (28 percent) thought it had succeeded.  The survey also uncovered strong support for a new news channel to provide an alternative to the BBC. A third of respondents (33 percent) agreed with the statement: ‘The BBC is not impartial and balanced, and there is a need for another news channel to offer a different perspective.’

 

SECRET SQUIRRELS INVESTIGATION AT UNIVERSITIES

According to the Mail on Sunday more than a dozen British universities are under investigation over commercial relationships with the Chinese government that might break laws designed to protect national security and human rights. The institutions – which include some of the most prestigious universities in the country – could be hit by ‘enforcement notices’ imposed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over alleged breaches of export controls in their dealings with Beijing. It is understood the security services fear some academics have been sharing pioneering British technology with China that could be facilitating the dictatorial Communist government’s repression of minorities and dissidents. The security service investigation, led by MI6 officers seconded to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was launched amid growing concern in Downing Street that academics were engaged in a ‘new gold rush’ to strike deals with the Chinese over cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs.

 

STATUE AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY TO TOPPLE

From the Sunday Times: Oxford’s Cecil Rhodes statue, which has become a symbol of memorials linked to slavery and Britain’s colonial past, is set to be removed by the summer and placed in a museum, though a number of dons are determined to block the move. The clash will be the first big test case in the “culture wars” over scores of statues, memorials and buildings, many in schools and universities, that campaigners want to topple or rename in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. They are in a race against time, however, with Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, who wants to protect monuments by law, and some academics, who believe that if Rhodes falls every other controversial memorial will follow.

 

AND FINALLY

According to the Sunday Telegraph John  Humphrys is quitting his role as host of the BBC’s quiz show Mastermind after 18 years on the job. Humphrys, 77, announced his departure in his Daily Mail column, adding that his replacement would be announced by the time the current series ends in March. “It really is time to finish,” he wrote, echoing the show’s catchphrase, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.” The Welsh broadcaster, who took the Mastermind reins in 2003 and hosted more than 750 episodes of the show, added: “I wish my successor well – but I’m not sure I envy them, whoever ‘they’ may be. What are the odds on the first female?” Mastermind, which currently airs on BBC Two, was first broadcast on BBC One in 1972 and hosted by former journalist Magnus Magnusson.

 

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