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The Prime Minister visits Riyadh to seek Saudi help in weaning the West off Russian oil and gas

“Boris Johnson is hoping to line up major Saudi investment in British renewable energy on a visit to Riyadh on Wednesday, during which he will urge the desert kingdom to increase oil production to tackle market volatility. But ahead of the trip the UK prime minister was accused by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of going “cap in hand from dictator to dictator” to beg for help, arguing that Johnson should have put in place a more balanced energy strategy years ago. Johnson will fly to the Middle East overnight on Tuesday for talks in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in an attempt to convince the two countries to help boost energy supplies and stabilise markets disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The UK announced last week that it would phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year.” – The Financial Times

  • Johnson dodges questions about mass executions – Daily Mail
  • Abramovich and others hit by fresh UK and EU sanctions – Financial Times
  • Law firms help oligarchs avoid scrutiny, MPs told – The Guardian
  • The UK has “no active system” to provide the public with an early report of a nuclear attack – The I
  • Air Marshal warns nuclear war ‘only a few steps away’ – Daily Mail
  • Blair: The West has two weeks to bring peace – The Guardian
  • Zelensky rejects NATO membership, in a concession to Russia – The Times
  • The Ukrainian President also addressed Johnson and others at the Joint Expeditionary Force conference – South Wales Echo
  • Hopes that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be finally released from an Iranian prison… –The Sun
  • … But Johnson says talks will go “down to the wire” – Belfast Telegraph

Zahawi promises ‘crackdown’ on pro-Putin propaganda at universities

“Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has promised a ‘crackdown’ on university academics who promote pro-Putin propaganda. Yesterday, chairman of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon said that an investigation by LBC had exposed ‘pro-Putinist propaganda’ at some of the UK’s leading universities. At Leeds University, a retired professor, Ray Bush is accused of spreading propaganda. Mr Halfon said Mr Bush made reference to the United States having ‘chemical warfare installations in Ukraine – that’s a lie, as he knows, being spread by the Kremlin’. And he said that at Edinburgh University, Professor Tim Hayward retweeted a Russian representative to the United Nations describing the attack on Mariupol’s maternity hospital as ‘fake news’ and added: ‘As long as we’re still able to hear two sides of the story we should continue striving to do so.’” – The Daily Mail

  • Nottingham University ‘split’ over the decision to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree for government race tsar Dr Tony Sewell – The Times

Truss urges rearmament

“Britain dropped the ball on tackling Mad Vlad by slashing spy numbers and defence spending after the Cold War, Liz Truss has claimed. The Foreign Secretary said relations with the Russian President could never recover — confessing that when it came to defending the UK: “We let down our guard.” And Ms Truss insisted that the warring tyrant was on track to target Nato countries next if we did not take a hard line now. In a powerful plea to Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of next week’s Spring Statement, she made the case for a huge rearming of the UK to be ready for a possible war. Ms Truss joined forces with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to call on Boris Johnson to turn on the spending taps after years of us allowing the Kremlin to flood the UK with fake news and lies. She said: “We’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetimes and we have to do everything we can do to stop it.”” – The Sun

  • Britain was right to accept oligarchs – corruption fears have been over-done – Danny Finkelstein, The Times
  • If anyone can convince the Saudis into increasing oil supplies, it’s Johnson – Ken Costa, Daily Telegraph
  • This proves the UK kowtows to tyrants when necessary – Michael Day, The I
  • The courage of Ukraine’s wartime leader – Editorial, The Financial Times
  • There must be a warm embrace for those fleeing this war – Editorial, The Daily Mail
  • Johnson will have his work cut out for him in Saudi Arabia – Editorial, The Daily Telegraph
  • There is still not enough evidence of ‘big’ concessions, despite positive talk – Editorial, The Times

>Today: Lord Hannan’s column: We feel the pull of geography, cultural congruence, and kinship in the West. Whether woke likes it or not.

Frost says Ministers should prepare to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol

“The Tories should make tearing up the Northern Ireland Protocol a general election campaign promise unless Brussels caves to British demands to renegotiate the treaty, Lord Frost has said. The former Brexit negotiator said the EU had to recognise that the protocol was “always temporary” and that it was “not realistic” for the Irish Sea border to last forever. The protocol keeps Northern Ireland subject to some EU laws and introduces customs checks on British goods entering the province to prevent a hard Irish border after Brexit. Brussels has repeatedly said the treaty will not be renegotiated, but has offered to cut the number of checks faced by British goods entering Northern Ireland. “If the protocol isn’t redone then the poison between us will remain,” Lord Frost said in a speech in non-EU member Switzerland, as he called for the two sides to “move on” from Brexit.” – The Daily Telegraph

>Today: Bob Seeley MP in Comment: Russia and the war. 2) Its military 

The Mail picks up Dorries’ ConHome article on the Online safety Bill

“Nadine Dorries has admitted tough new internet laws to be published later this week do not do enough to protect legitimate news content against censorship by tech giants…Writing on the ConservativeHome website, she said: ‘Journalists will have an expedited right to appeal if their content is removed. ‘And I have every intention of further improving the requirements for platforms not to remove content from recognised media outlets during the passage of the Bill.’ Last night, a newspaper executive said: ‘Social media sites will have to police everything by algorithm, which they will set as cautiously as they can – particularly as those in charge could face criminal sanctions.” – The Daily Mail

  • Ministers hope changes will prevent overzealous tech companies from stifling political debate – The Times

Halfon piles on the pressure for a fuel duty cut next week

“Parents could have to home school children because they cannot afford the petrol to drive them to class. MP Robert Halfon said mums are having to make the painful choice because fuel is “unaffordable”. The stark warning by the Tory boss of the education select committee came as the price of filling up a family car with petrol smashed the £90 barrier for the first time. Furious Conservative MPs piled pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to slash fuel duty to help struggling families with “eye-watering” costs. Mr Halfon said: “I have had constituents who have told me they have had to sleep in car parks overnight because they cannot afford to drive home. “A mother has said to me she is thinking about home educating her child because of the cost of driving to school. It is the biggest cost for millions of people.” Mr Halfon is among a growing army of MPs urging the Treasury to act in next week’s mini budget.” – The Sun

  • The Treasury could stand to make up to £2.9 billion more from motorists, in a tax windfall – The Times
  • MPs urge Rishi Sunak to cut fuel duty in the face of ‘eye-watering’ fuel prices – The Daily Mail
  • Families face the biggest squeeze on their budgets for 50 years – The Daily Mail
  • Sunak must ditch his flawed plan – Editorial, The Sun

>Yesterday: Connor Macdonald in Comment: From energy to employment, how Sunak can draw up a blueprint for prosperity 

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Today’s employment figures are the last bit of good news the Chancellor will get for a while 

Net Zero could be put back to help boost North Sea oil production

“Net zero rules for the North Sea are to be watered down under proposals aimed at freeing the West from its reliance on Russian fossil fuel in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. Officials are examining a plan that would allow new oil and gas drilling to go ahead on national security grounds, even if it violates a ban on schemes that could damage Britain’s bid to go carbon neutral by 2050. The move – which would be a major policy reversal just months after Boris Johnson pledged to lead the fight against climate change at the Cop-26 conference – comes as the Prime Minister pushes for more energy imports from Saudi Arabia and weighs up ending a ban on fracking. Ministers are currently consulting on proposals for so-called climate compatibility checkpoints, which companies must pass to win drilling licences in North Sea oil and gas fields.” – The Daily Telegraph

  • Hands struggles against backbench demands for fracking – Quentin Letts, The Times
  • Fracking firm Caudrilla could be given a reprieve from permanently sealing its wells – The Daily Mail

Public Accounts Committee claims that Ministers lack a real plan to turn extra NHS spending into better health outcomes

“The government lacks a “real plan” to turn extra funding from a planned £12bn national insurance rise into better outcomes for NHS patients in England receiving cancer treatment or those stuck on waiting lists for elective care, MPs have warned. The House of Commons public accounts committee criticised the Department of Health and Social Care in a report published on Wednesday for having “overseen years of decline” in cancer and non-urgent operation waiting times, which predate the pandemic. It called on the health service to “set out . . . timeframes, costs and outputs” to reduce the current backlog. NHS England and the health department “appeared unwilling to make measurable commitments”, the report noted. MPs also said: “There is no national plan to address [the] postcode lottery” that determines patients’ quality of care. The report by the committee follows a tussle between the Treasury and health bosses over setting clearer targets for the NHS pandemic recovery plan ahead of a manifesto-busting £12bn increase in national insurance contributions, which takes effect in April.” – The Financial Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Saj of all trades grasps at NHS reform with one hand, as the other grapples with the Covid backlog 

Walker and Cates clash over trans teaching in schools

“Schools Minister Robin Walker has said schools will continue to teach LGBT content and there are no plans to ‘rule out’ teaching about trans issues. The minister made the statement to the House of Commons’ Education Select Committee this morning as MPs discussed recent guidance issued to schools on political impartiality. Mr Walker said that ‘we need to talk about the world as it is’ – adding that trans people do exist in Britain and are a protected group under the Equality Act. His comments came in response to Conservative MP Miriam Cates, who told the committee ‘you cannot change sex’ and insisted that this was a ‘biological fact’. She asked why examples around what she termed ‘gender ideology’ which she said ‘has no basis in science’ were not included in the guidance to schools – saying it contained 19 instructions around impartiality on racism, different political systems, environmentalism and other topical subjects but none about trans issues.” – The Daily Mail 

>Today: Andrew Gimson’s Profile: J.K. Rowling, striving to stop Starmer nailing his colours to the fence on trans

Sebastian Payne: The Conservatives are still hoping May’s local elections will see more gains from the Red Wall

“Sunderland…has been redoubtably Labour since the inception of the city council in 1973. It feels almost inconceivable that Labour may lose control of Sunderland in the May 5 local elections. In 2019, as many of Labour’s traditional “red wall” heartlands fell to the Conservatives in Boris Johnson’s landslide win, Sunderland’s clung on. Its incumbent Labour MPs saw their majorities slashed, but the party held every seat. In 2021, the Tories gained six council seats and Labour lost nine. Now they hope to finish the job. Labour holds 43 seats, a third of which are up for grabs in May. The Tories are trailing on 19 seats, with the Liberal Democrats holding 12. If the opposition parties retain and gain seven, they will oust Labour. One local Tory reckons they are well-placed to win “if they can win the second seats in the wards they broke into”.” – The Financial Times

  • The “festival of Brexit” is a waste of £120 million, according to MPs – The Times

Sturgeon u-turns on plan to remove all remaining Covid restrictions due to a spike in cases

“Nicola Sturgeon confirms mandatory face coverings to remain amid concern over NHS. Businesses have accused Nicola Sturgeon of putting Scotland’s economic recovery into “reverse gear” after delaying the easing of face mask requirements for two weeks. The First Minister confirmed the removal of all other legal restrictions from Monday, including requirements for businesses to take customer contact details and follow infection-related guidance. Face coverings will remain mandatory in public settings, amid concern over high case numbers and pressure on hospitals. The measure will be reviewed in two weeks. Ms Sturgeon said she expects to convert it to guidance in early April. “I know this will be disappointing for businesses and service providers such as day care services,” Ms Sturgeon said.” – The Scotsman

  • UK daily Covid cases reach over 100,000 for the first time in a month – The Daily Mail

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The Coronavirus Inquiry. I’m an outlier – but I believe that following public opinion was a problem.

News in Brief:

  • Violence has returned to Corsica – John Lichfield, UnHerd
  • We’ll never escape the shadow of the Second World War – Madeline Grant, The Daily Telegraph
  • David Frost’s solution to cool UK-EU relations – James Forsyth, The Spectator 
  • The trans fairy tale – Nicole Jones, The Critic
  • Gove shouldn’t kid himself about the origins of the hostile environment – John Elledge, The New Statesman