TENSION MOUNTS IN NORTHERN IRELAND

From the Telegraph: Ministers are under pressure to quell mounting tensions in Northern Ireland as Boris Johnson on Tuesday condemned unacceptable violence from loyalist groups. Downing Street joined Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, in appealing for calm after the province suffered several days of unrest. It came as the Stormont Assembly was recalled for an emergency debate on Thursday over the violence in loyalist areas, which has seen 41 police officers injured since Friday last week. Clashes erupted in Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey and Londonderry, with cars set alight and petrol bombs and missiles thrown at officers.  Anger grew last week after the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) controversially decided not to prosecute a number of senior Sinn Fein figures who attended a republican funeral while Covid restrictions were in force.

MINISTERS ACCUSED OF BETRAYING CHILDREN

The Telegraph reports: Face masks in the classroom are to stay in place after the Easter holidays, the Government has announced, despite low Covid rates among school pupils. Secondary students should continue to wear masks when they return to school for the summer term, in both lessons and corridors, as a precautionary measure, officials at the Department for Education (DfE) said. They explained that the policy will now be dropped as part of stage three of the roadmap out of restrictions, which will happen no earlier than May 17. Ministers have been accused of betraying children by continuing to insist on face masks in the classroom during the summer term, given the serious harms that they are potentially causing.

CRACKDOWN ON BEHAVIOUR IN SCHOOLS SAYS GAVIN WILLIAMSON

The Telegraph reports that Gavin Williamson has said that a generation of children have lacked discipline and order during lockdown and  the absence of structure for youngsters during several months of school closures will inevitably have an impact on their behaviour. Throwing his weight behind a mobile phone ban at schools, he said that some children’s out of control behaviour threatens to destroy the learning environment for their peers.His remarks come as the Department for Education (DfE) announces the details of its £10 million behaviour hub programme which it says will be up and running in time for the summer term. Officials have appointed 22 lead schools across the country, all of which have strong behaviour policies and receive glowing Ofsted reports.

TORY REBELS AND SIR KEIR STARMER UNITE AGAINST COVID PASSPORTS

From the Daily Mail: Boris Johnson’s plans for domestic vaccine passports are in jeopardy after it was claimed Sir Keir Starmer and Labour will oppose the rollout of the documents. Some 40 Tory MPs have already made clear they are against Covid Status Certification warning that introducing the checks in everyday life would create a two tier nation.  A senior Labour source told The Guardian that Sir Keir and other prominent Labour figures are all minded to vote against the documents amid fears over how the scheme could work and its cost. Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth appeared to harden the party’s stance further this morning as he said the passports would be ‘discriminatory’. Tory MPs have demanded Mr Johnson put any passport plan to a vote in the House of Commons but the Prime Minister sidestepped the request at a Downing Street press conference last night. Labour’s reported stance on the subject means that any vote could be very tight, with Mr Johnson’s fate likely to be determined by how big of a Tory revolt he suffers.

NO TO EUROSTAR PLEA FOR FINANCIAL BAIL OUT

The Express reports that Boris Johnson is spurning requests to bail out Eurostar amid fears the rail firm is on the verge of going bust after demand in the service slumped due to the coronavirus pandemic.The Government insists the French state and other private shareholders should step in to save Eurostar from collapse. The UK sold its stake in Eurostar in 2015 to help pay off Government debts.Eurostar has £400million worth of loans that are due by June, although there is some suggestion the deadline can be extended.  The company has urged the Government to offer it some rescue funds but France has rejected a similar plea, insisting it is for Britain to save the firm because it’s headquartered in London.

PEACOCKS ARE PROUD AGAIN

Reuters reports that British discount clothing chain Peacocks has been bought out of administration by Steve Simpson, the chief operating officer of Edinburgh Woollen Mill, backed by a consortium of international investors, saving about 2,000 jobs. Peacocks fell into administration in November, blaming the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  EWM Group, the private investment group controlled by the family of Philip Day and Peacocks’ leading secured creditor, said on Tuesday it was supporting Simpson’s bid, providing a deferred loan to the consortium.  Simpson hopes to reopen up to 200 Peacocks stores when lockdown rules ease. Prior to the administration it traded from 423 stores with a staff of 4,369.  Some 1,850 store staff are currently on furlough.

LIFESTYLE PROBLEMS AHEAD FOR MANY

The Express reports that breadwinners need to earn £42,781 to pay for a very average lifestyle, researchers found. Paying a mortgage or the rent, transport and food are the biggest costs. Typical annual outgoings are £30,571, with the average family – which is 2.4 people – saving £2,160. It means a single earner of £42,781 has an after-tax income of £32,731 to cover these levels of spending and saving. That is almost £14,000 – or 37 percent – more than last year’s average pre-tax salary of £29,009. The figures cover men and women in full and part-time work, says the Office for National Statistics (ONS). For those in full-time work, the average UK salary is £35,423. For part-time employees it is £12,083. A spokesman said:  These figures show a person needs to earn a considerable wage for their household to live the UK’s average life. People often feel under pressure to have the newest and best things, never mind just the average.

HOLIDAYS ABROAD COULD BECOME THE PRESERVE OF THE RICH

The Times reports that Boris Johnson has pledged to cut the price of coronavirus testing for holidaymakers as research showed that passengers face having to pay up to £420 each, making travel “prohibitively expensive” this summer. The prime minister suggested that travellers arriving in England may be able to take rapid lateral flow tests – instead of more expensive PCR tests – to satisfy new entry requirements. He insisted that the government was committed to making the process as affordable as possible, adding: “I do want to see international travel start up again.” It comes after heavy criticism by airlines, airports and tour operators in the past 24 hours of the government’s plans to reopen foreign travel, with warnings that holidays abroad could become the preserve of the rich.

STRONGER  ECONOMIC RECOVERY IN RICH COUNTRIES

The Guardian reports that stronger recoveries from the Covid-19 pandemic in the US, the UK and other rich western countries will result in faster than expected growth for the global economy this year, the International Monetary Fund has predicted. The Washington-based IMF’s half-yearly World Economic Outlook (WEO) said successful vaccine programmes, businesses adapting to the challenges of lockdown and Joe Biden’s $1.9tn (£1.4tn) stimulus package had been key factors in the upgrade. After contracting by 3.3% in 2020, the IMF said the world economy would now grow by 6% in 2021 and a further 4.4% in 2022. The last WEO in October had predicted expansion of 5.2% in 2021 and 4.2% in 2022. The October forecast for 2021 was later upgraded to 5.5% growth in January this year. The IMF said governments had spent $16tn in their attempts to mitigate the economic damage caused by the virus and that without the unprecedented policy response the global economy would have contracted by 10% last year.

HEARTS BROKEN IN PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME

The Daily Mail reports that thousands of pictures have emerged on social media in the past few days of piles of rubbish filling the streets of Paris under the hashtag ‘SaccageParis’ – meaning ‘trash Paris’. Parisians have claimed the city has been left abandoned by their Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo and they are fed up with living in an unmaintained dump which some have likened to a shanty town. French far-right leader Marine le Pen weighed in on the situation, tweeting that the ‘thousands of images’ shared with the Saccage Paris hashtag break the hearts of lovers of Paris.

SIGNS OF SPRING STOLEN

The Evening Standard reports that police are investigating after around 8,000 bluebell bulbs were found dug up from a privately-owned wood and loaded into large sacks and mail bags. Officers discovered the recently-uprooted bulbs after a member of the public reported people acting suspiciously at the wood in the Fakenham area on March 23, Norfolk Police said. The force said two men aged in their 30s and two women aged in their 20s, all from Lincolnshire were interviewed, but that no arrests have been made. The landowner is now in the process of replanting the bulbs, and officers are appealing for witnesses. British Bluebells are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act along with all other native wild plants and bulbs, the force said. In 2019, almost 13,000 snowdrops worth about £1,500 were stolen from the Walsingham Estate in Norfolk.

AND FINALLY

From The Times: Dogs are more likely to be right-handed, just like their owners, a study suggests.  An analysis of nearly 18,000 pet dogs across Britain found that 74 per cent showed a paw preference when reaching for food. Of these, 58 per cent preferred to use their right.  The researchers, from Lincoln University, said that having a preferred limb — known as lateralisation – is thought to be beneficial because it makes animals more efficient at tasks.  Previous studies have found that chimpanzees with a stronger hand preference forage more efficiently for termites. 

 

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