BLAIR SPEAKS ON SCOTLAND’S INDY REF 2

The Telegraph reports that Tony Blair has cast doubt on whether Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP winning a majority in next week’s Holyrood election gives her a mandate for a second independence referendum. The former prime minister said he “would frankly doubt” whether Scots wanted to go through another referendum campaign and argued they did not want the “disruption” it would cause. But he said it may become “difficult” for Boris Johnson to resist giving Ms Sturgeon the powers for another vote if “opinion looks as though it is fixed” in favour of separation. The former Labour leader claimed the Union would “already be in tatters” if his government had not created devolution in 1999, despite the SNP using the reins of power in Scotland to drive up support for separation. He predicted that Scots would “ultimately” vote again to stay in the UK if there was a second referendum but admitted that there were “weaknesses” in the way his government implemented devolution that have helped the nationalists.

DYSON ACCUSES THE BBC

The Telegraph reports that Sir James Dyson has accused the BBC of a “grotesque mischaracterisation” of his links to the Conservative Party as he denied acting inappropriately over his texts with Boris Johnson. Speaking for the first time since the row over his messages broke last week, the British inventor and businessman said it was untrue he tried to “extract favours from the Prime Minister”. The messages, revealed by the BBC last Wednesday, showed Sir James sought clarification from Mr Johnson on UK tax matters related to building ventilators during the pandemic. It thrust a spotlight on how figures in the private sector communicate with the Prime Minister and raised questions about how such requests are handled inside government. He writes: “The BBC’s characterisation of me as a prominent Conservative donor, or supporter, leveraging a position of power to extract favours from the Prime Minister, is completely untrue.” A BBC spokesman responded on Tuesday: “The BBC has led the way on reporting a significant story which is clearly in the public interest. Sir James Dyson has informed us he is not a prominent Conservative supporter and at his request we put that detail on the record.”

PEERS MUZZLED OVER VALUING EVERYONE  TRAINING

The Times reports that Peers including Lord Heseltine and Baroness Boothroyd have been forbidden to speak to the press by the House of Lords after they failed to attend anti-bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment workshops. Sixty peers have fallen foul of the Lords authorities because they have not completed “Valuing Everyone” training. Boothroyd, 91, recently underwent heart surgery, and Heseltine, 88, is recovering from a knee operation. The peers, who maintain that they were unaware of the need to undergo the training, are now facing an investigation into their conduct. They have been warned that they will be in contempt of parliament if they speak publicly about the inquiry.

GOOD CHANCE THAT COVID RESTRICTIONS WILL END JUNE 21

The Telegraph reports: Boris Johnson has said there is now a “very good chance” of ending coronavirus restrictions completely on June 21 in his most optimistic assessment yet. The prime minister said that he still expects a third wave of the virus but vaccination had built “some pretty robust fortifications” against it. While cautioning that the virus was not “totally licked”, Johnson expressed confidence that legal restrictions on social contact would come to an end as planned. This would mean the return of mass gatherings, nightclubs, conferences and other events that did not reopen last summer. Scientific advisers are also increasingly optimistic that infection rates, hospital admissions and deaths will continue to fall for at least another month, allowing an end to emergency coronavirus laws on Midsummer’s Day.

PUBLIC CARES LITTLE ABOUT THE  APARTMENT DECOR SAYS MINISTER

The Guardian reports that soon-to-be-published annual accounts will “tidy up” the controversy over the funding of the refurbishment of the prime minister’s Downing Street flat, according to a government minister. In an interview with Sky News, the Work and Pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, sought to play down growing accusations of sleaze, and claimed the public did not care about the makeover of the apartment after the prime minister said he would foot the £58,000 bill himself. She suggested that if any initial donations for the work had been made they would be declared later.

MINISTERS TOLD TO SAVE CASH

The Daily Mail reports that Boris Johnson has launched a Whitehall savings drive as he looks to shore up the UK’s creaking public finances and learn the lessons from the coronavirus crisis.The Prime Minister has fired the starting pistol on a cross-Government ‘savings and efficiency review’. He has instructed all of his Cabinet ministers that they must take part, asking them to identify where their departments can save cash. It comes after official statistics published last week laid bare the damage done by the pandemic to the UK’s finances as national debt continues to climb above £2.1trillion amid record borrowing.

THE EU WILL USE  BREXIT DEAL REAL TEETH TO PUNISH BREXIT BRITAIN

The Guardian reports that Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the EU will not hesitate to use the “real teeth” in the Brexit deal to punish the British government for breaching its obligations as MEPs prepared to consent to the historic agreement, marking the end of four years of high political drama.  Speaking ahead of an evening vote by MEPs, where a positive result is not in question, the European commission president said the trade and cooperation agreement would give the EU more leverage over the UK  as the agreement comes with real teeth with a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for unilateral remedial measures where necessary, Von der Leyen went on “ let me be very clear: we do not want to have to use these tools, but we will not hesitate to use them if necessary. They are essential to ensure full compliance with the [trade and cooperation agreement], and with the withdrawal agreement, which both were negotiated in such fine details and agreed by both sides.” The UK government has been accused of breaching its commitments in Northern Ireland and on an agreement on fisheries, which was brought into force provisionally along with the rest of the trade deal in January, ahead of scrutiny by MEPs and their formal consent.

OUTRAGE AT ARREST OF BRITISH ARMY VETERANS

The Telegraph reports that an IRA commander allegedly killed by two paratroopers had been responsible for the deaths of 15 British soldiers, a landmark trial heard on Monday. Joe McCann, who was shot and killed by the British Army in April 1972, was also in charge of “punishment” and “reprisal” attacks in his own community in Belfast including “tarring and feathering” and shooting of his victims, the court heard. Mr McCann’s “known modus operandi” was to lure Army patrols into an ambush and then to “fire from cover”. Two former British soldiers (both now in their 70s) went on trial on Monday accused of Mr McCann’s murder. The soldiers, who can be identified only as A and C, sat impassively in the dock as they listened to witnesses recall events from almost half a century ago. Bespectacled and balding, they wore suits, ties and protective Covid-19 face masks as they pleaded not guilty in the first so-called ‘legacy murder trial’ of Army veterans. As many as 200 Army veterans face criminal investigation and possible prosecution for killings during the Troubles.  The prosecution of the two elderly men, who have never previously been arrested or convicted of any crime, has caused outrage with Johnny Mercer, a former Army captain who quit as Defence Minister last week over the failure of the Government to put in place legislation to protect soldiers from prosecution over the Troubles.

PUBS LIMITED TO THREE KEGS A WEEK OF SOME BEERS

The Mirror reports that Heineken, which owns both Moretti and Amstel, is temporarily limiting UK pubs to only three kegs per week following the reopening of pubs for outside service after the Covid lockdown It comes as millions of Brits have flocked back to pubs after boozers were allowed to reopen for outdoor service on April 12 in England. Scotland pubs reopened on April 26 but they must close at 8pm and not serve alcohol inside, although punters can drink outside. Wales pubs reopened for outdoor drinking only on April 26, while those in Northern Ireland can get back to the pubs – but again, only for outside services – from April 30. Punters won’t be allowed to sit inside to eat and drink until May 17 at the earliest in England, providing the roadmap out of lockdown stays on schedule.

AND FINALLY

The Sun reports that a birthday girl was left gutted when her gift balloon with £100 tied to it floated away.  Nikki Walker was celebrating her 37th birthday in Glasgow with a BBQ when her mother Carol, 69, gifted her the balloon with ten £10 notes attached. She told Scotland’s Daily Record:  “There were £100 in £10 notes attached to the balloon, it is just my luck. Nikki took to Facebook to share the story of the birthday blunder, and after it went viral, kind Scots created a GoFundMe page for her. She explained: “The post has been shared nearly 6000 times with about 1.6k likes.”

 

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