WORRYING INCIDENTS IN BELFAST
From the Independent: Police are investigating an incident in Belfast where a gang of at least 24 masked men were reported to have been patrolling streets in the city. Video and images posted to social media appear to show a group of men mostly dressed in black, wearing hats and with their faces covered walking through the Pitt Park area of east Belfast, about a mile-and-a-half from the city centre. In a Tuesday night statement, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said: “Police responded to reports of suspicious masked men in the vicinity of the Newtownards Road in east Belfast, this afternoon (Tuesday, February 2nd). Officers attended and enquiries are continuing.” Local Democratic Unionist Party MP Gavin Robinson said that there had been a number of “worrying incidents” in east Belfast in past few weeks.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TO REMAIN
The Express reports: English will remain the official language of the EU despite Brexit, in the latest blow to Emmanuel Macron’s ally Clement Beaune. The French minister for European Affairs said that “it will be difficult for people to understand why we would prefer to use broken English after Brexit”, after the UK finally signed a trade deal with the bloc. Rather, said the politician, “let’s get used to speaking our languages again.” On paper, Mr Beaune’s battle is that of “European linguistic diversity.” His speech, however, seems to go towards a reassertion of French. UPR leader and Frexit campaigner Francois Asselineau accused the French minister of failing to understand the geopolitical consequences of Brexit and France’s position in the EU within NATO.He wrote: “To believe that French would once again become the 1st language in Europe after #Brexit is not to understand that.
BBC IS TWICE THE VALUE
The Daily Mail writes that the BBC has claimed it is better value for money than streaming rivals like Netflix. Yesterday the broadcaster released a report which claimed that while ‘each hour of BBC TV watched by a household costs it around 9p’, for an ‘equivalent’ streaming service the cost per hour ‘consumed by the household’ was about 15p. The report, unveiled by BBC director-general Tim Davie, said that a bundle of subscriptions offering comparable ‘high-quality’ and ‘advertising-free’ services to the BBC across ‘video, audio and news’ would cost over £400 per year as compared with the £157.50 licence fee. The corporation also claimed it represented ‘great value for money’, but there was ‘unprecedented competition’ for audiences from streaming services, social media and gaming – which has driven up the cost of talent as well as drama and sport.
BBC RADIO 2 NOT FOR POP PICKERS
From the Daily Mail: it appears that BBC Radio 2 have quietly asked their DJs to ‘scale back’ on playing songs from the Sixties and Seventies in favour of music from the Eighties onwards. BBC Radio 2 is known for its ultra-loyal band of middle-aged listeners — many of whom happen to be over 40, with an average age of 51. The suits at Radio 2 are particularly keen on women in their mid-30s to mid-40s, a demographic a focus group has branded ‘mood mums’, who came of age in the later decades of the last century. And that, they believe, means feeding them a diet of the music that reminds them of those heady times and jettisoning what came before, enforcing a musical cut-off line somewhere around 1980.
THE UK IS AN ISLAND NATION
The Independent reports: Grant Shapps has said that the UK relies ‘very, very heavily on our very close connections with our friends and partners, particularly in Europe’ as he defended the UK’s current border restrictions, saying that implementing strict Australia-style border closures would not help the UK get the pandemic under control. The Transport Secretary insisted that that approach would not work for the UK as it is an island nation unlike Australia or something which is an entire continent.
FORMER CIVIL SERVANT’S DISGUST WITH NEW BRITISH PASSPORT
The Daily Express reports that a former civil servant has expressed disgust with her new “black passport”. The new British Passports which are based on the country’s traditional pre-eu passports are now being issued. Siobhan Benita, a former civil servant and a Rejoin the EU campaigner, tweeted a picture of her new passport and wrote: ’My new black passport has just arrived I will hate this document until the day it expires.’ This argument erupted after people claimed the “blue passports” are not blue but instead black. After the Home Office revealed the picture of the new passport colour, Craig Burston, senior lecturer in graphic design at the London College of Communication, said: “I’d say it’s black, if most people looked at this, they’d say it’s black.”
SCHOOLS OUT UNTIL MARCH
The SUN reports: Boris Johnson has dashed parents’ hopes of opening schools earlier than March 8 as he warned the level of infection is still “forbiddingly high”.The PM slapped down calls from Tory MPs to go faster at getting kids back in the classroom after Scotland said yesterday their kids would go back within weeks. The PM said he understands people want to go further and get back to normal as quickly as possible – and insisted: I share that urgency. But he vowed not to open schools too soon or there was a huge risk the nation could be forced into reverse and would have to turn on the brakes once again. He added: This is the cautious approach, it’s much better to stick to that.
STATUE FOR CAPTAIN SIR TOM MOORE
The Daily Mail reports that a permanent memorial to inspirational Captain Sir Tom Moore should be built to recognise his contribution to the NHS. Matt Hancock confirmed the 100-year-old had cemented his place in history after his heroic fundraising efforts. He said his courageous rallying of the country during the coronavirus pandemic had symbolised resilience in the face of adversity. His comments on a memorial came amid calls for Captain Sir Tom to be honoured on the Fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square or to receive a stone in Westminster Abbey.
BORIS SENDS ARMY TO HELP SCOTLAND SORT OUT ITS VACCINES CHAOS
From the Daily Mail: British Army medics are to deploy to help speed up Scotland’s vaccine rollout for the first time, it was announced today – as Nicola Sturgeon insisted she did not need ‘a favour’ from Boris Johnson. The Ministry of Defence said 57 medics and management would start work on Thursday to assist health boards across the nation boost the number of jabs in arms. They will make up a ‘vaccine quick reaction force’ which will see five teams of 10 able to deploy across Scotland at short notice. It came as Ms Sturgeon launched a furious attack on offers of help from Westminster, as she claimed the Covid vaccination programme was ‘going well’. She has been under pressure to improve the numbers after they hit a record low on Sunday, before rebounding on Monday and Tuesday.
NO BRITISH POTATOES FOR NORTHERN IRELAND
From the Telegraph: UK customs officials are banning potatoes and tractors from Northern Ireland if they have soil from Great Britain on them, Arlene Foster has said ahead of a key meeting with Boris Johnson today. Ms Foster, the Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, blamed British customs officials for over-interpreting rules in the Northern Ireland Protocol which governs flows of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. UK officials have told companies in Northern Ireland that soil must not be allowed to be imported, even inadvertently, from the British mainland to Northern Ireland on health grounds. Ms Foster said: “There is a lot of very grave anger in Northern Ireland about the way in which this protocol is rolling out. And we need to get it sorted and we need to get it sorted immediately. There was no plant disease in Great Britain before Brexit. So how are there any difficulties now post Brexit in terms of Northern Ireland? One of the most offensive things, I have to say, for a lot of us here in Northern Ireland is that we’re told that soil from Great Britain cannot make its way across the Irish Sea over to Northern Ireland.”
CRITICAL CARE COVID PATIENTS TRANSFERRED DAILY
The Guardian reports: Dozens of Covid patients a day are being moved from one hospital to another because of a severe shortage of critical care beds across the NHS that transferred a total of 1,079 people needing critical care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ICUs in different areas in the four weeks to 28 January – an average of 38.5 a day. Far more than the 547 patients – 18.2 a day – who were taken from one hospital to another during the whole of last April, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. The second wave has also seen a surge in the number of very sick Covid patients being moved from their home area – sometimes to a hospital far away – to get an ICU bed. That now happens dozens of times a week.
The Telegraph reports that Chinese education officials are requiring more gym classes in an effort to turn schoolboys into more manly men, a plan that’s being met with criticism online and debate over traditional gender norms. Better gym instructors – and more male teachers – should be recruited to “cultivate masculinity,” the education ministry has told schools and local governments. The change came in response to a senior political adviser’s suggestion last year that Chinese boys were becoming too effeminate, describing them as weak, self-effacing and timid, traits that would constitute “a threat to the development and survival of our nation.”