Published:

The Integrated Review 1) Johnson attacked for pushing trade links with China…

“Boris Johnson warned that a cold war with China would be a “mistake” yesterday as he faced a backlash from his backbench MPs over plans to build deeper trade links with Beijing. The prime minister said that Britain had to strike a balance in its ties with China and that the government’s integrated review offered a “clear-sighted” approach. Tory MPs and experts criticised the government for a “grasping naivety” and urged Johnson to take a tougher stance. It came as a leaked video emerged of Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, telling officials that Britain would seek trade deals with countries that violated international standards on human rights. Raab said in the call, leaked to HuffPost UK, that if Britain traded only with countries that met European Convention on Human Rights standards then it would miss out on the “growth markets of the future”.” – The Times

  • Ignore human rights and strike trade deals, Raab told officials – The Times

Analysis:

  • A new British foreign policy for a more dangerous world – Daily Telegraph

Political sketch:

Comment:

The Integrated Review 2)… and there’s backbench anger as the PM refuses vote on aid budget cuts

“Parliament will not be given a say on cuts to Britain’s aid budget, Boris Johnson said yesterday as Tory critics attacked him for “balancing the books on the backs of the poor”. Amid growing criticism from Conservative backbenchers, the prime minister refused to commit to a date to restore aid spending, which will be cut by up to £5 billion this year. He confirmed that ministers would not put the decision to reduce the UK’s legal commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of national income to a vote in the Commons, for fear of a backbench rebellion. The government would seek to restore aid spending when “fiscal circumstances have improved”, he said, and added that even the reduced spending of £10 billion a year was “a huge sum in the current circumstances”.” – The Times

The Integrated Review 3) Britain could use nuclear weapons against ’emerging technology’ threats such as cyber and AI

“Britain could use nuclear weapons if faced with a threat from devastating “emerging technologies” such as cyber and artificial intelligence, the Government’s landmark foreign policy review has warned. The Government has long stated that the UK would not conduct a nuclear strike against any non-nuclear weapons state that complies with a 1968 non-proliferation treaty. The guarantee does not apply to states that break the terms of the agreement. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister expanded the caveats to warn that Britain reserves the right to review this assurance “if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological capabilities, or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact, makes it necessary”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • A long-standing policy to cut the stockpile of nuclear warheads was reversed, with a plan to increase them by 40 per cent from 180 to 260 – The Times

Hartlepool Labour MP Mike Hill quits, triggering red wall byelection

“A Labour MP has quit the Commons, triggering a byelection that will severely test the party’s performance in its traditional “red wall” heartlands. The Guardian understands that Mike Hill resigned as MP for Hartlepool while a parliamentary investigation continues into his behaviour, and that party leader Keir Starmer told him he needed to quit some time ago. Northern Tories are confident they could clinch the seat and add it to their list of constituencies that have for the first time elected a Conservative MP. One Labour source said Hill “has done the right thing and resigned” and that “it is right above all else that any investigation is carried out fully and that justice is done”. The date floated by Labour figures as the most likely for the byelection to go ahead is 6 May, in line with other local elections.” – The Guardian

Europe backs down over AstraZeneca vaccine fears

“France and Italy prepared to drop their suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine last night after the European regulator said it was “firmly convinced” that the benefits outweighed any risks. President Macron and Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister, said that they would “promptly restart the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine” if it was cleared by the European Medicines Agency tomorrow. A statement by the EMA that there was no sign the vaccination had caused blood clots was described by Macron and Draghi as “encouraging”. Seventeen European countries have paused use of the jab in recent days. In response to concern that the suspension could further slow immunisation rates on the Continent, the European Commission has urged governments to stop sitting on vaccine stockpiles as infection rates rise.” – The Times

  • EU leaders turn on each other in AstraZeneca Covid vaccine row – Daily Telegraph
  • UK patients cancel AstraZeneca Covid jabs as Europe’s mixed messages sow confusion – The Times
  • Brussels will table plans for coronavirus vaccine certificates today with the aim of opening up travel to and within the European Union for the summer – The Times
  • Overseas holidays may be off until after May half-term – Daily Telegraph

Allison Pearson: The EU is cutting off its nose to spite its face over the AstraZeneca jab

“I had my first jab last week and I literally didn’t feel a thing. In fact, I wondered if it had happened at all. Where was that terrible knitting-needle thing you see plunged into people’s arms on the TV news? The gusting rain outside could not dampen the festive atmosphere in the queue. It was like being seven years old and lining up to meet Father Christmas. One of the marshalls joked that he’d volunteered “just to get out the house”. He told us we’d be having the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. They’d had some of the Pfizer earlier on, but this one was much easier to store. A woman in front of me said she’d be injected with absolutely anything “if I can go out and eat a meal I haven’t cooked myself”. That pretty much summed up the mood. Despite what the polls say, I reckon most people are done with Covid and lockdown.” – Daily Telegraph

More comment:

Sarah Everard: Give boys lessons on how to respect women and girls, says Malthouse

“Boys should be taught how to respect women and girls in the streets as part of their sex and relationship education at school, the policing minister has said. Kit Malthouse made the suggestion in response to public clamour for action after Sarah Everard’s murder. He said that all adults had a duty to “pay attention to the way we bring up our kids” by being role models and helping boys to understand relationships with women. However, in an interview with The Times, Malthouse also suggested that teachers could play a role in changing attitudes towards the way in which women are treated in public, including the subject as part of relationships and sex education (RSE).” – The Times

Comment:

>Yesterday:

Bill that curtails ability to protest in England and Wales passes second reading

“A landmark government crime bill has passed its first parliamentary hurdle, even as some Conservative MPs served notice that they might subsequently support amendments to water down controversial restrictions against protests. The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, which groups together a range of changes to enforcement and sentencing in England and Wales, passed its second reading – the first chance MPs get to vote on a proposed law – by 359 votes to 263. An earlier vote saw an amendment tabled by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, voted down by 225 votes for and 359 against. While Labour says it backs a number of the elements within the bill, its MPs voted against it primarily over proposals to allow police significant leeway to stop protests on grounds including noise and disruption to the public.” – The Guardian

Cummings set to break silence after Downing Street departure

“Dominic Cummings, the former Downing Street aide described as Boris Johnson’s “Rasputin”, is to break his silence following his dramatic departure from Number 10 late last year. The prime minister’s former de facto chief of staff, who quit in a bitter power struggle involving Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds, is appearing before a high-powered committee of MPs. Mr Cummings has been called to give evidence about a new scientific research funding agency he championed, but he is also expected to lift the lid on decision making inside the PM’s inner circle. The controversial and combative Mr Cummings, the former Vote Leave mastermind said to regard anti-Brexit MPs with contempt, is appearing before the all-party Science and Technology Select Committee.” – Sky News

A year of Covid. Ministers, advisers and the Opposition manoeuvre for position as the blame game intensifies.

“Senior doctors, government scientific advisers and a former head of the civil service have spoken out in favour of a public inquiry into the UK’s handling of Covid-19, raising pressure on Boris Johnson to finally launch the process as the UK’s coronavirus fatalities rose to almost 126,000. Thousands of bereaved families, nurses and ethnic minority leaders also backed calls for an inquiry into everything from lockdown tactics to test and trace after the UK’s handling of the pandemic resulted in the worst death toll per capita of any of the world’s large economies. Lord Kerslake, the head of the civil service under David Cameron, and Prof John Edmunds, a leading scientific adviser to the government on Covid, are among a dozen influential figures who have told the Guardian they support a public inquiry. Kerslake said it could save lives and it would be “criminal not to learn the lessons”.” – The Guardian

  • Revealed: how Chris Whitty’s early advice set the template to keep UK’s borders open during Covid crisis – Daily Telegraph

Text messages pile pressure on Sturgeon over Salmond

“A former Tory cabinet minister used parliamentary privilege dramatically last night to read out text messages that he claimed showed that Nicola Sturgeon’s chief of staff interfered in a government investigation into Alex Salmond’s alleged sexual misconduct. David Davis made the statement about Liz Lloyd in the Commons and also cast doubt on Sturgeon’s account of when she first learnt of the allegations against Salmond, her former mentor and close friend. The first minister told the Scottish parliament three times that she had learnt of the complaints against Salmond on April 2, 2018, although she later conceded that she had forgotten an earlier meeting in March. Davis’s material brought the date forward again, to February 6, which he said suggested that both Sturgeon and Lloyd had been wrong about the April date.” – The Times

Universities warned about over-recruiting after record numbers apply

“Universities must not sacrifice quality for “inflated intakes” or disappoint students by over-recruiting this year, the student watchdog warns. It also says that universities are still using unconditional offers that require students to commit to a place in exchange for lower entry grades, despite them being banned. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said that universities were “likely to have many well-qualified students to choose from” after a surge in applications. A-level grades will be decided by teachers this year, although they are subject to checks and moderation, and officials have said that generosity will be baked into the system. Head teachers’ leaders have said that “pointy elbowed parents with lawyer friends” will put pressure on teachers.” – The Times

Fury as Labour accuses Tories of ‘effectively decriminalising rape’ in ‘incredibly irresponsible’ tweet

“Labour was fiercely criticised last night after claiming Conservative ministers had ‘effectively decriminalised’ rape. Tory MPs condemned the allegation as ‘dangerous fake news’ and accused the Opposition of trying to score ‘cheap political points’. Sir Keir Starmer’s party had tweeted: ‘Under the Tories, rape has effectively been decriminalised. We need to do so much more to end violence against women and girls.’ Amanda Milling, Conservative party chair, branded the post ‘incredibly irresponsible’, while colleagues said it could deter victims from coming forward. Labour sources shot back that the statement simply echoed the views of the Government’s own victims commissioner. The row came as MPs voted in favour of the Government’s controversial Policing Bill, which Labour argues does not adequately confront the issue of violence against women.” – Daily Mail

North Korean defector Jihyun Park is Conservative candidate in Bury council election

“A woman who fled North Korea but was caught, sent back and tortured is now running for public office in Britain after she escaped again. Jihyun Park, 52, hopes to represent the Conservatives in a ward in Bury, Greater Manchester. This week her ambition was bolstered after she was selected as the party’s candidate for Moorside, having previously been set to run for a seat in the Holyrood ward. As well as being the area she lives in, Moorside is considered a marginal ward, and her chances of success have increased. Park, who is now a British citizen and has three children, said that she wanted to “give back” because “Britain has gifted me with so much”. When she first fled North Korea for China in 1998, she was sold into a forced marriage. In 2004 she was arrested and sent back to North Korea where she was tortured in a labour camp. She was thrown out when officials believed she was close to death but managed to escape again. Four years later she moved to Britain, having received help from the United Nations.” – The Times

News in brief: