Published:

Britain is convinced Russia is about to invade Ukraine

“President Putin has made up his mind to invade Ukraine, senior government figures believe, with western leaders accusing Moscow of orchestrating “false flag” attacks in the east of the country. In Washington President Biden warned that an invasion could take place within “several days”, describing the risk as “very high”. Boris Johnson said Moscow was behind shelling in Ukraine’s disputed east, which led to a strike on a nursery. He described the situation as “very grim”. Senior Whitehall figures said this week that the government did not believe Putin had decided whether to launch an invasion. Yesterday sources suggested that this analysis had changed in the past 24 hours. “He’s going to do it, and it’s going to be horrendous,” one said.” – The Times

  • MoD reveals Moscow’s ‘battle plan’ and US warns of ‘moment of peril’ – but Russia insists its troops are retreating – Daily Mail
  • Cyberwar is planned before military strike – The Times
  • Truss accuses Russia of a ‘blatant’ attempt to ‘fabricate pretexts for invasion’ – Daily Mail
  • Russia begins ‘false flag’ attacks against Ukraine – Daily Telegraph
  • Biden warns Russia is set to invade Ukraine within days – FT

James Forsyth: How the West can defeat the Xi-Putin axis

“A new phase of history has begun. The liberal world order faces its greatest challenge since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: not just with Russia’s actions on the border with Ukraine but China’s manoeuvrings in Asia. The burgeoning friendship between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping might be based on the idea that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. But it is no less of a threat for that. Moscow and Beijing are united by a desire to end the US-led world order. Both want their spheres of influence acknowledged and respected. Both fear the spread of democracy and want to make the world safe for autocratic regimes. One immediate benefit for Russia and China of their closer links is that they can force the US to split its attention between two theatres. Joe Biden pulled out of Afghanistan to better focus on competition with China but now finds himself warning Americans about the economic consequences of a land war in Europe.” – The Times

Political sketch:

Patel scraps golden visas in Brexit Britain ‘corruption’ crackdown

“Priti Patel has scrapped the “golden visa” scheme for wealthy foreign investors in a crackdown on corruption. The Home Office confirmed that the Tier 1 investor visa route will be shut to new applicants from all nationalities with immediate effect. According to the Government, some cases gave rise to security concerns. This includes people who amassed wealth illegitimately as well as being linked to corruption more widely. Anyone who was eligible for the visa must have at least £2 million in investment funds and have a UK bank account. The announcement comes amid concerns about Russia’s influence in the UK as tensions rise about a potential invasion of Ukraine. It has been under review due to repeated concerns that the system could be exploited because not enough background checks are made on applicants.” – Daily Express

  • Corruption alert over Russians with £1.5 billion of British property – The Times

Britons brace for Storm Eunice – the worst in over 30 years

More:

  • Should I drive and are trains and flights operating? – The Times

Ruling that will shield wealthy crime suspects is condemned

“Senior Tories and press advocates have condemned a court ruling that makes it harder for the media to report on criminal suspects before they are charged. Critics warned that the Supreme Court judgment against Bloomberg, the financial news agency, could have a chilling impact on press freedom. In the landmark ruling on Wednesday, five justices dismissed an appeal brought by Bloomberg over its reporting in 2016 on an American businessman, known as ZXC, who was being investigated by a legal enforcement body before any charge. John Micklethwait, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg, said the decision would help powerful people suspected of wrongdoing to keep their names out of the press. “This right to privacy is only for those who can afford it — strangely enough, these often tend to be those who have the most to hide,” he said.” – The Times

Coronavirus 1) Health leaders fear end of free testing

“NHS leaders have warned against the expected end of free coronavirus tests and believe isolation rules should stay. More than 300 senior staff in England were polled by the NHS Confederation and 79 per cent opposed the end of access to free tests for the public. Boris Johnson is expected on Monday to unveil his plan for living with coronavirus, with ministers hinting that free tests will go. The end of the requirement to isolate after a positive test is also likely. Almost all of those polled, 97 per cent, said that at least twice-weekly testing for NHS health staff and key workers must continue, and more than three quarters would disagree with any move to make isolation after a positive test advisory instead of compulsory. More than four in five would oppose an end to compulsory mask-wearing in the NHS and care homes.” – The Times

Coronavirus 2) Office workers trickle back but most still stay at home

“Staff are returning to UK offices in the highest numbers since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, according to an analysis of workplace occupancy but office use remains far below pre-pandemic levels. Last week, occupancy reached levels last seen in November last year, before the introduction of restrictions intended to tackle the outbreak of the Omicron variant, research by the property analysts Remit Consulting found. Office occupancy of 23.3 per cent between February 7 and 11 continued the trend for a gradual increase since the start of the year but it was well shy of pre-pandemic levels of closer to 60 per cent, with questions remaining over the future of traditional work-places and the businesses that rely on office workers. On February 10, occupancy reached 27.5 per cent, the highest since March 2020, Remit said.” – The Times

Comment:

Britain pursues US trade deals state by state after Biden snub

“Ministers have begun a move to strike “mini” trade deals with individual American states after President Biden made clear he had little interest in pursuing a trade agreement with Britain. Under a new strategy by the Department for International Trade, ministers have led a charm offensive in state capitals to take advantage of America’s federal structure of government. While tariffs on goods can be negotiated only by the presidency, deals on non-tariff barriers to trade such as services regulation can be sealed at a state level. Services account for about £83.7 billion of exports to the US, some 64 per cent of the total export market. Ministers believe such agreements would make it easier and more attractive for insurance, legal and accountancy industries to operate in the US.” – The Times

EU claims Mad Cow Disease is why it must retag cows’ ears in Northern Ireland

“Brussels has rejected UK demands that British cows be spared having their ears retagged with an EU code when they arrive in Northern Ireland. In comments that risk angering the Government, the European Commission said the tagging system was originally created because of Mad Cow Disease, which was first detected in the UK. EU negotiators dismissed British claims that the requirement was unnecessary and costly red tape in talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol. The protocol means the province continues to follow EU animal health rules, which prevents the need for a hard Irish border, while the rest of the UK does not. “Animals must be identified using a single well-defined EU system based on unique numbers and codes referenced in a unique EU database,” a commission spokesman said.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Dublin downplays hopes of imminent breakthrough on Northern Ireland post-Brexit border rules row as it warns against ‘unrealistic’ expectations ahead of crunch EU-UK talks next week – Daily Mail

Comment:

Labour-Lib Dem pact targets dozens of Tory seats in ‘ruthless’ campaign

“Labour and the Liberal Democrats are preparing to fight a “Tories first” general election campaign where they will concentrate their resources on toppling Conservative MPs rather than fighting each other. Senior Labour sources said that given the party’s “limited resources” they would target their campaign spending only on those seats where they had a realistic chance of defeating the Conservatives. The Lib Dems pointed out that in 2019 it came second to the Tories in about 90 seats and its priority would be to target “dozens” of these constituencies, a number of which were considered safe Lib Dem seats before the losses they suffered after being in coalition with the Conservatives. However, both parties rejected any talk of a formal general election pact, suggesting that their decisions were simply being driven by the electoral maths.” – The Times

Dramatic twist in Post Office scandal probe as criminal miscarriages team launches hunt for nearly 600 victims who are yet to step forward

“The independent body in charge of investigating miscarriages of justice yesterday took the lead in urging postmasters to overturn their wrongful convictions. Close to 700 victims were incorrectly accused of crimes such as fraud and theft between 2000 and 2015 when glitches in the computer system, called Horizon, were to blame. But two years after the full extent of the scandal was revealed, 576 are yet to come forward because of their ‘inherent mistrust’ of the Post Office. Just 104 postmasters have had their convictions overturned or begun the process to quash them. The Criminal Cases Review Commission said the Post Office had voluntarily relinquished its role on Wednesday and it had taken over, hours before a critical report from MPs was released.” – Daily Mail

Khan standoff with MPs over ‘cash-strapped’ Transport for London’s refusal to help foot bill for £80 million Parliament Square pedestrianisation

“Sadiq Khan is locked in a standoff with MPs over who will pay for a £80million security overhaul of Parliament Square. Wrangling over how to pedestrianise the area outside the Palace of Westminster to reduce the terror threat and enhance its status as a tourist attraction has been going on decades. The Commons and Lords Speakers, local council, Greater London Assembly and other interested parties have now finally agreed a broad blueprint – including scrapping the busy road that runs outside Parliament. However, the process is facing another hold-up after the Mayor – who pledged to make the pedestrianisation happen when he was first elected in 2016 – insisted that Transport for London is so strapped for cash it cannot contribute to the costs.” – Daily Mail

News in brief: