SECOND FROST OVER BRUSSELS
The Express reports: Brussels has threatened legal action unless Boris Johnson backs down in the row over Northern Ireland. The European Commission said it would use the legal means available to it to counter British plans to ignore EU red tape on trade with the region. The Prime Minister defied eurocrats by pledging to scrap the rules on food shipments for another six months. He insisted the move would protect supermarket supply chains after months of disruption due to Brussels bureaucracy. In response, the Commission accused Downing Street of moving to break international law and the terms of the Brexit deal.
COVID DEATH TOLL DUE TO OBESITY
From the Telegraph: Britain’s Covid death toll has been fuelled by its obesity epidemic experts have said, as global research finds nine in 10 fatalities occurred in countries with a weight problem. Britain was found to have the third highest death rate in the world and the fourth highest obesity rate, with more than than two in three adults overweight or obese. The study by the World Obesity Federation examined almost 100 countries and found that 2.2 million of 2.5 million deaths occurred in countries with high levels of obesity. Overall, death rates were found to be 10 times higher in countries where more than half the population was overweight.
FURLOUGH PAYMENTS UNTIL OCTOBER SAYS CHANCELLOR
The Daily Star reports: The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that the furlough scheme will be extended until the end of September in a move that will affect millions of workers. Employers will be asked to contribute to employees’ salaries from July with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to pledge to continue to help businesses and individuals through the “challenging months ahead – and beyond”. But the government’s contribution will be tapered from July – with employers asked to pay in alongside the taxpayer for the cost of furloughed employees. Employers will be expected to contribute 10% of salaries from July, rising to 20% in August and September as the economy reopens. The Chancellor will also announce further support for self-employed workers, with more than 600,000 people – many of whom become self-employed in 2019/20 – now eligible for cash grants.
STEALTH TAX TO HIT MILLIONS
The SUN reports that millions of hard-working Brits will be hit by a stealth tax rise from today’s Budget.The Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a freeze to income tax thresholds, meaning Brits will no longer benefit from planned increases to the amount that can be earned tax-free. In his Budget today, Mr Sunak said the tax-free personal allowance – the amount you can earn before paying tax – will rise as planned from April 2021 but then stay at that rate until April 2026. For basic rate taxpayers the threshold will be held at £12,570 and £50,270 for higher rate taxpayers. Although Mr Sunak stopped short of increasing taxes, a freeze to these thresholds is essentially a pay cut, once you take into account the rate of inflation.
PRESIDENT OF LAW SOCIETY STEPS ASIDE
The Times reports that the leader of the solicitors’ profession has quit his post over allegations that he lied to a court in a dispute with a former client over fees. David Greene, a prominent City litigator, announced today that he had decided to “step aside” less than halfway through his one-year term as president of the Law Society after the High Court ruled that allegations of dishonesty must be heard by a disciplinary tribunal. Greene has led the 160,000-strong solicitors’ profession in England and Wales since October. His early departure clears the way for the organisation to have its first president from an ethnic minority background. Stephanie Boyce who is black, will take over from March 19, when Greene officially leaves his post at the society’s headquarters
US AIRBASE IN IRAQ HIT BY ROCKETS
The Daily Mail reports: A civilian contractor who died when rockets struck a US airbase in Iraq has been confirmed as a US national who suffered a heart attack when taking shelter, the Pentagon has revealed. At least 10 rockets hit the Ain al-Asad air base, in Iraq’s western Anbar province, at around 7.20am local time from a launcher located five miles from the base.The Pentagon confirmed the victim’s nationality in a statement on Wednesday after the attack, saying: ‘There are no current reports of US service member injuries and all are accounted for. A US civilian contractor suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering and sadly passed away shortly after.’It is not yet clear who carried out the strikes but it comes days after President Joe Biden approved his first airstrike – an attack on two Iranian-backed Shia militia groups in Syria – that killed 22 people.
CONTACTLESS PAYMENTS INCREASE
The Express writes that Brits will be able to make contactless payments of up to £100 Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced as he makes use of the UK’s freedom outside the EU to help with the pandemic recovery. Announcing the decision ahead of the Budget, the Chancellor said: As we begin to open the UK economy and people return to the high street, the contactless limit increase will make it easier than ever before for people to pay for their shopping, providing a welcome boost to retail that will protect jobs and drive growth across the capital. While in the EU, Britain was bound by a £45 cap imposed on all member states.
FREE PORTS ANNOUNCED
The SUN reports that Britain’s economic recovery will be powered by the creation of eight new Freeports to turbocharge post-Brexit growth, Rishi Sunak announced today. Freeports are areas which allow companies importing and exporting from the UK to operate under simplified customs, tax, and planning rules and are a key plank in the government’s plan to diversify our trade away from Europe and strike up commercial links with the rest of the world. The new blueprint is also intended to play an important part in kickstarting the country’s efforts to build back from the pandemic.
STURGEON FACES VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE
From the Daily Mail: Nicola Sturgeon is still facing the prospect of a confidence vote after eight hours of testimony on Wednesday failed to satisfy opposition parties she acted properly during the sexual assault probe against Alex Salmond. The First Minister was ridiculed by sceptical MSPs as she claimed she didn’t remember a key meeting about the allegations against her predecessor and mentor. Members of a Scottish Parliament committee described her claims as unlikely and said they were struggling to believe her, while expressing incredulity at her forgetfulness. The Scottish Tories said Nicola Sturgeon dodged and evaded almost every difficult question. ‘She vividly remembers the details she believes exonerate her, then forgets entirely anything that damages her. The litany of lies and abject failures is too much for any First Minister to survive. She must go.’
LABOUR LOST AND TROUBLED
The Daily Mail writes: Labour Leader Sir Keir Stamer was facing increased kickback against his refusal to back business tax rises on Wednesday as Labour Bible the New Statesman accused him of leaving voters bewildered. In a scathing attack on the Opposition Leader the New Statesman said that the party has no idea what it wants under his leadership. Sir Keir has already faced criticism from the left of the party over his refusal to demand Rishi Sunak increase corporation taxes in the Budget even when increases have been backed by some senior Tories. Headlined ‘Lost Labour’, it said the party seems increasingly troubled as support for the Tories grows on the back of the successful vaccine rollout.
FOREGN AID MAY BE CUT
The Times reports that the government may cut the foreign aid budget without introducing legislation in an attempt to avert a backbench rebellion, ministers suggested today. James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister, refused to guarantee that legislation would be introduced to implement the decision to slash emergency aid to Yemen as he faced tough questioning. The chancellor announced in November that overseas aid would be cut from 0.7 per cent of GDP to 0.5 per cent this year due to the pandemic, contravening a legal commitment to the higher figure. The announcement prompted anger from the back benches and the prospect of a rebellion large enough to defeat the government.
RAPID AGEING OF POPULATION IN CHINA
The Times writes that hopes that the pandemic, with all that time confined inside, might have pulled China out of its fertility nosedive have been dashed. So with the superpower on course to record its lowest birthrate in decades, Beijing is being urged to scrap its last remaining restrictions on family size if it wants to keep flourishing. It is five years since the state loosened policies — designed by a previous generation of communist planners to control numbers in the world’s most populous country — to allow most couples to have two children instead of one. Yet the baby boom that was expected then has not materialised resulting in the rapid ageing of China’s 1.4 billion-strong population that threatens its economic well being.
From the Daily Star: A major airline has sensationally confirmed one of its Airbus planes had an encounter with a UFO – and it turns out it’s not an uncommon occurrence. The American Airlines pilot described the object that shot just above flight 2292on February 21 as long and cylindrical and almost looking like a cruise missile. No weapons tests were reported in northwestern New Mexico where the plane was flying, although the US military’s White Sands Missile Range is nearby and the FBI has started an investigation.It is not the first time a pilot has reported an unidentified object, or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) and there are numerous witness accounts and videos of mystery objects trailing planes.