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Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s released after Truss “overruled US objections” to deal

“The US wanted to secure the release of Morad Tahbaz, who has Iranian, American and British citizenship. Iran was adamant it would release Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori and Tabhaz would only be released on furlough. Two government sources told The Times that the US blocked the deal, leading to an angry — and until now undisclosed — diplomatic row. “The US effectively blocked it,” one source said. “We were furious about it but nobody could say anything. Iran was never going to accept releasing three people. It was always about the two.” The collapse of the deal and the arrival of Liz Truss as foreign secretary in September led to a change of approach. She made clear that securing Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release was her priority and urged officials to be as creative as possible. She said that the matter should be seen as between Britain and Iran rather than one linked to the US.” – The Times

  • Inside the secret talks – Daily Telegraph
  • £393m deal with Iran that will smooth nuclear talks – Daily Telegraph
  • Courage during six years of hell has been immense – Leader, The Sun
  • Cackhanded diplomacy encouraged hostage-taking – Leader, The Times
  • Democracies must rethink how they deal with dictators – Leader, The Scotsman

>Today: ToryDiary: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Is the cost of her freedom too high?

Johnson was warned of Lebedev security concerns, claims Cummings

“Dominic Cummings has said he was present when Boris Johnson was told of security concerns about his plan to award a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev. The ex-adviser said he was “in the room” when the PM was told intelligence officials had “serious reservations” about giving the honour to the Russian-born businessman. It follows reports the security services changed their advice after Mr Johnson intervened. The PM has previously denied this.” – BBC

Ukraine is “paying the price” for the West’s failure to understand the threat from Putin, says PM

“Ukraine is “paying the price” for the West’s failure to understand the threat posed by Vladimir Putin, the PM says. Boris Johnson told the BBC the Russian president’s invasion had “already failed” because he underestimated the “strength of resistance” in Ukraine. But he blamed European countries who “went back to treating [Putin] as part of the community” after his annexing of Crimea in 2014. Mr Johnson has been visiting Saudi Arabia, discussing energy security. He said the West needed to ensure it was “never again vulnerable to Putin’s blackmail” – especially when it came to relying on Russian oil and gas.” – BBC

  • Johnson returns from trip to Saudi Arabia without commitment on oil – Financial Times
  • Putin “humiliated” as Ukrainian forces take down more than 10 aircraft in a day – Daily Express
  • Russia and Ukraine at odds over neutrality in 15-point peace plan – Daily Telegraph
  • No time to check homes of refugee hosts, says minister – The Times
  • Putin’s chilling warning to the West – Daily Mail
  • Russia loses a fourth General – Daily Mail

>Today:

Raab to clampdown on ‘lawfare’ used by oligarchs to avoid scrutiny

“The UK has announced plans to clamp down on the use of the courts by Russian oligarchs and powerful elites to “weaponise” litigation as a way of silencing critics and shielding themselves from scrutiny. Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister and justice secretary, will on Thursday set out proposals to protect free speech and stop wealthy corporations and businesspeople using the courts in England and Wales to lodge libel lawsuits known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).” – Financial Times

>Yesterday: Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Labour goes for guilt by association with oligarchs

Dorries insists new online harms bill will protect free speech

“Woke” tech giants will be barred from “arbitrarily” removing content they regard as controversial to protect freedom of speech in the new online harms bill, Nadine Dorries has said. In an exclusive article for The Telegraph, the Culture Secretary has moved to head off criticism – including from senior Tory backbenchers – that a requirement for firms like Facebook and Twitter to combat “legal but harmful” content could lead to them censoring controversial political comments.” – Daily Telegraph

  • There’s nothing woke about online safety – Nadine Dorries, Daily Telegraph
  • We’re taking back control from Silicon Valley – Damian Collins, Daily Telegraph
  • Why we must act now to protect our children – Chris Philp, Daily Mail
  • Promised changes to the Bill are welcome – Leader, Daily Mail

Government responds to Sewell Report with agreement to drop the term “BAME”

“Ministers will drop the term black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), beef up local scrutiny of police stop and search and draft a model history curriculum to teach Britain’s “complex” past in response to the Sewell report on racial disparities. Launched as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests, the Sewell report caused controversy when it was published last year for broadly rejecting institutional racism as an explanation for many of the challenges faced by ethnic minorities in the UK. In the government’s response, called Inclusive Britain, ministers acknowledge that racism exists but stress the importance of other factors, too.” – The Guardian

  • Response “sidesteps Sewell ’s most criticised conclusions” – The Guardian

Badenoch: Real disadvantage is also an issue for groups whose experience can’t be explained by racism

“We certainly won’t achieve greater equality if we fall for the narrative that this country and its institutions are fundamentally racist, that the lack of opportunity experienced by people from ethnic minorities is all due to racial prejudice and we won’t achieve equality until we decolonise this, tear down that and put our entire history and every person of ‘privilege’ in the dock for crimes of commission and omission. A society that sees everything through the prism of race and ethnicity will never be a society at ease with itself. It certainly will not be a society that is welcoming to the many immigrants like myself who choose to make this country our home. We need to be able to talk about race and tackle racism without creating a more racialised society.” – Kemi Badenoch, Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Cristina Odone on Comment: The government engaging with parents is crucial in improving early years education

Murray: We can no longer obsess over micro-aggressions amid real aggression

“The heads of our intelligence services and Armed Forces boast of their LGBT credentials more than they boast about getting on with their own jobs. Meanwhile some soldiers apparently feel their jobs have become so suffocatingly woke they have gone AWOL to fight in Ukraine….Ukraine should be a wake-up call about the brutal realities of the world and the need to face up to them. I suppose we’ll see whether a generation brought up on fantasies is capable of making that switch.” – Douglas Murray, The Sun

  • Brave Ukrainians have secured a place in history – Leo McKinstry, Daily Express
  • The hubristic West has declared victory over Putin far too soon – Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph
  • Our enemies see us as weak and divided, but this war is the West’s wake-up call – Tony Blair, Daily Mail

Bridgen withdraws no-confidence letter in the PM

“Another Conservative MP has publicly withdrawn his letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson, citing the Ukraine crisis – in a sign that the Prime Minister’s “partygate” troubles have abated. At a Telegraph event chaired by Christopher Hope on Wednesday, Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, said that it would be an “indulgence” to hold a vote of no confidence during the war. Speaking on stage at the panel event, titled “How will history judge Boris Johnson?”, Mr Bridgen said he was “appalled by partygate” – but that the current climate was “no time for internecine warfare within the Conservative Party”.” – Daily Telegraph

Government “remains committed to banning hunting trophies”

“The government has said it remains committed to banning the import of hunting trophies in its forthcoming Animals Abroad Bill. Concerns were raised by some Tory MPs that the ban – promised in the party’s 2019 general election manifesto – would be dropped after media reports. But a government source dismissed the claims. Other measures in the bill to ban the import and sale of fur and foie gras are likely to be dropped.” – BBC

Cabinet split over fracking

“Boris Johnson’s top team bickered over restarting fracking the UK. Jacob Rees Mogg told a meeting of ministers that there can be “no stone unturned” to solve our energy crisis. But hours later Michael Gove took aim in public saying the baffling ban must stay. The big beast told green Tories at the Conservative Environment Network he was “not at all convinced” that fracking is the way forward.” – The Sun

  • ‘No quick ways’ to reduce energy bills – The Times

Sunak to gain tax windfall from higher inflation

“The Treasury is in line for a windfall of £12.5 billion in extra tax revenues due to a surge in inflation, according to estimates from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will collect £20.5 billion from his decision last year to freeze income tax thresholds for four years — up from an initial estimate of £8 billion, the IFS said. The increase is the result of far higher inflation — which could hit 8 per cent next month — leading to workers with rising wages paying more income tax. Inflation stood at less than 1 per cent when the announcement was made in March 2021.” – The Times

>Yesterday: Tom Clougherty on Comment: The Chancellor can help households next week by raising tax thresholds and rebooting energy policy

Labour MP joins Farage’s anti-net zero campaign

“A Labour MP is to appear on stage with Nigel Farage at the launch of an anti-net zero campaign for a referendum on policies to tackle climate change, a move that has sparked anger from party colleagues. Graham Stringer, a prominent Brexiter who has appeared with Farage at pro-leave events and on his GB News show, was billed as appearing alongside the former Brexit party leader along with Reform UK leader Richard Tice and the broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer. The Vote Power Not Poverty rally is scheduled to launch Farage’s campaign for a referendum on net zero, taking in place in Bolton next Saturday. It is understood that the Labour leader’s office is concerned by the appearance.” – The Guardian

News in brief

  • Could China get sucked into war in Ukraine? – Harold James, The Spectator
  • Covid cases and hospital admissions rise by a third in the past week – The i
  • If Britain pays the Zaghari-Ratcliffe ransom, we will regret it – Stephen Pollard, CapX
  • The revised Online Safety Bill is better, but still awful – Jennifer Powers, Unherd
  • Hypothecated taxes are a bad idea – John Redwood