NIGEL FARAGE STEPS OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT SAYING IT’S OVER
The Express reports that Nigel Farage, who renamed the Brexit Party the Reform Party after the UK formally quit the bloc, has said: “now that he’s finally seen Brexit through it’s over. There is no going back, Brexit is done, that won’t be reversed. I know I’ve come back once or twice when people thought I’d gone, but this is it. It’s done, it’s over”. He added: “Now’s the moment for me to say I’ve knocked on my last door. I’m going to step down as the leader of Reform UK. I’ll have no executive position at all. I’m quite happy to have an honorary one, but party politics, campaigning, being involved in elections, that is now over for me because I’ve achieved the one thing I set out to do, to achieve the independence of the UK.” Richard Tice will replace him as leader of the party.
UNITED KINGDOM AS WE KNOW IT IS OVER
The Daily Mail reports that Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the United Kingdom as we know it is over and has demanded a radical overhaul based on a voluntary association of four nations. He told MPs that UK parliamentary sovereignty was a redundant notion and called for more powers to flow from Westminster to the devolved nations. The Welsh Labour leader stressed he wants to keep the UK intact, which suggests his position is not as hardline as Scottish nationalists who crave full independence. But Stephen Crabb, the former Welsh Secretary and chair of the Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee, told the MailOnline, Mark Drakeford’s vision of a hollowed-out United Kingdom held together by the loosest of ties is a blueprint for national division and decline. ‘Federalism is the rallying cry of those who have given up on the Union’.
FROST COULD RELAX BORDER CHECKS ON IMPORTS FROM EU
The Guardian reports: Ministers are preparing to relax post-Brexit plans for border checks on food and other imports from the EU because of fears that they will further damage trade and could lead to severe shortages in UK supermarkets. The Observer has been told by multiple industry sources that Boris Johnson’s new Brexit minister, Lord Frost, is considering allowing “lighter touch” controls on imports from 1 April than are currently planned, and scaling back plans for full customs checks, including physical inspections, which are due to begin on 1 July. A Downing Street source confirmed on Saturday night that Frost had already ordered “a review of the timetable to ensure that we are not imposing unnecessary burdens on business” but added that it was “early in the process and no decisions have been made”.
LOYALIST GROUPS WITHDRAW SUPPORT FOR GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
The Morning Star reports: loyalist paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland have withdrawn their support for the Good Friday Agreement citing concerns over the so-called border in the Irish Sea as a result of Brexit. The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) an umbrella group representing banned organisations including the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando, has written to Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin detailing their concerns. Disruption to supermarket and parcel deliveries and the continued refusal of some high-street chains to deliver to the North of Ireland have heightened tensions among loyalists and unionist parties who say the region’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom is under threat. Others have warned against allowing what they say is essentially a voice for proscribed terrorist organisations to become an actor in a political debate.
SET US FREE SAY LAWRENCE FOX
From the Guardian: Laurence Fox the actor and controversial political activist, has made a late entry to the race for mayor of London with a campaign calling for an immediate end to lockdown and pledging to offer a voice to those who are being dominated into silence. In the announcement accompanying his entry, Fox hit out at extreme political correctness as he criticised the taking down of statues of figures he considers integral to Britain’s history. He told the Telegraph: “With almost all older and vulnerable people having got their jab, I want the lockdown lifted straight away. The government has said vaccines are working, hospitalisations and deaths are tumbling, but we are still being told we won’t be able to resume normal life until mid-summer at the earliest. Both the main parties are competing in this dreary race to be the last to set the country free … I want London – and indeed the rest of the country – to be allowed to get back to work and play immediately – not by late June.”
THOUSANDS OF FOREIGN CRIMINALS LIVING FREELY IN UK
The Times reports on the number of foreign criminals living freely in the UK who are eligible for deportation that has exceeded 10,000 for the first time, figures reveal. Almost 3,000 were released from prison more than five years ago but have still not been deported by the Home Office. By the end of last year 10,373 former prisoners eligible for deportation were living in the community — 386 more than 2019. The figure has doubled in the past five years despite repeated government pledges to boost deportations of foreign nationals. Last year the number of foreign criminals deported from the UK fell to its lowest rate on record. Only 3,374 foreign national offenders were removed in the 12 months to September 2020.
CRITICISM OF NEW SCHOOL MEALS CONTRACT
From the Guardian: Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, is facing criticism for awarding another £190m contract to a company blamed for the problems with a school meals voucher system in England that left families without food during the first lockdown. The French company Edenred’s new contract, appears to bring its total income from the scheme to £615m since the pandemic began. An earlier investigation into the scheme by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that previous contracts had been signed with the company despite limited evidence of its capacity to deliver. The voucher scheme, hastily set up last year, was hit with problems as schools complained of difficulties in registering for the weekly vouchers and teachers struggled to log on to the website. At one point last April, the Edenred helpline was receiving almost 4,000 calls and nearly 9,000 emails a day from school staff and parents.
CASH SWIPED FROM SCHOOLS SAY HEAD TEACHERS
The Independent reports: many millions of pounds are being swiped from England’s poorest schools in a funding switch triggering fresh accusations of bias towards Tory-held areas.The date for calculating how many children are eligible for extra pupil premium cash has been quietly shifted to last October – before schools were able to register many of them. One of London’s poorest boroughs, Barking and Dagenham is set to lose more than £1m alone, and the amount lost by schools in similarly deprived areas could run to tens of millions of pounds. One head teacher – whose school will lose £40,000 – said the sum was the equivalent of an extra teacher, or two support staff, leaving it with very challenging decisions to make.
SCHOOL COVID TESTS IN DISARRAY
From the Guardian: plans to test schoolchildren in England with controversial lateral flow tests have been thrown into disarray after it emerged it was very likely children and their parents would be asked to self-isolate unnecessarily. Every pupil who received a positive test result after taking a rapid lateral flow device (LFD) test at school should check their result against a so-called gold-standard laboratory test – known as a PCR test – due to the fact that the LFD result was just as likely to be a false positive as a true positive, a leading statistician has said. Secondary pupils returning to classrooms in England on Monday will be asked to undertake three initial LFD tests at school which, because staff are trained to guide children taking the tests, is deemed to be an “assisted test centre”. Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union said “The danger is that young people and children who don’t have Covid are kept off school unnecessarily because of a false positive and those who have Covid will go to school, because they got a false negative.”
NOT A PANDEMIC JUST A PANPANIC
From the Telegraph: Tony Blair dismissed fears of a coronavirus crisis as a “panpanic” when he was prime minister and admitted that he would try to do the minimum we could with the minimum expenditure to prepare. The former Labour prime minister, who now runs a series of not-for-profit bodies, has won plaudits for the way his ideas have become government policy in tackling the Covid-19 crisis. Mr Blair was the first to call for a 12 week gap between first and second vaccine jabs and the introduction of vaccine passports before ministers announced them. The praise for Mr. Blair reportedly led to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, stopping giving private briefings about the Government’s plans to Mr Blair and his team. Now it has emerged that when he was in 10 Downing Street, Mr Blair was much less keen to take measures to prepare for a pandemic, even calling it a “panpanic”.
NO PLAN YET TO ACHIEVE NET ZERO EMISSIONS IN UK
From the Independent: there is not enough clarity over how the UK will meet its net zero target or what it hopes to achieve from the upcoming UN climate conference in Glasgow, MPs have warned. A report from the Public Accounts Committee said that the government still has no plan for how it will achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, despite it being almost two years since the target was set in law. Meanwhile, Darren Jones, a Labour politician who is chair of the BEIS committee, told The Independent: “We’re concerned that the strategy for Cop26 isn’t focused enough. The overriding objective needs to be getting as many countries in the world as possible committed and able to put forward [climate plans] that are sufficient to meet the scale of the target that was agreed upon in Paris five years ago.”
The Mail reports that an animal welfare group backed by Carrie Symonds calling for action to tackle fish suffering, including efforts to protect their mental wellbeing. A study published by the group threatens to upset Britain’s millions of hobby fishermen by raising concerns about hook injuries and stress. Even the stocking of ornamental fish, such as goldfish and koi carp in garden ponds, can be a source of suffering, it is claimed. The group, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, argues the welfare of fish has not been given the same attention as other animals. It adds: ‘Stereotypes of fish as unintelligent and unsophisticated have prevented this from happening before now. It is time the question is shifted from whether fish can suffer, to how we are going to protect their interests given they can.’