UK pays £2.3bn fine to EU
Britain has paid a fine of more than £2.3bn to the European Union for allowing Chinese gangs to flood the continent with cheap clothes and shoes. The Treasury “slipped out” the news that it had paid Brussels to settle a long-running quarrel over slack customs checks when Britain was a member of the bloc, said The Times. An EU fraud investigation found that HMRC failed to check impossibly low valuations put on Chinese consignments arriving into Britain.
Labour wins West Lancs by-election
Labour has enjoyed a comfortable victory in the West Lancashire by-election. Ashley Dalton, who secured a majority of 8,326 over the Conservatives, said voters had sent a clear message to the government that they “do not have confidence in them to govern”. The vote came just days after Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle and is the first time the Tory vote has dipped below 30% since the 1997 general election, noted The Guardian. The by-election in the Labour heartlands seat was triggered when Rosie Cooper, who represented the area for 17 years, quit to take up a senior leadership role in the NHS.
Hopes fade for Turkey survivors
Rescuers are still searching rubble for survivors from Monday’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria but hopes are fading as freezing conditions set in. More than 20,000 people are now known to have been killed in the earthquakes, which were described by Turkey’s president as “the disaster of the century”. Banks of tents are being erected in stadiums and “shattered city centres”, said Daily Sabah, as the authorities try to shelter the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless in the middle of winter.
Martin Lewis calls for action on energy bills
Raising the cap on energy bills will a “national act of harm”, said finance commentator Martin Lewis. After the government said it plans to increase the limit on a typical family’s energy costs from £2,500 a year to £3,000 in April, the money-saving expert told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The nation is already shivering with the damage of the cost-of-living crisis and it just seems to me there is no need to do this”. The Treasury said without the move, it would need to borrow an extra £42bn and “potentially increase taxes”.
Synod votes for same-sex blessings
Gay couples will be able to receive a blessing in the Church of England after the General Synod voted in favour of the move last night. Following more than eight hours of “emotionally charged debate” over two days that brought the Archbishop of Canterbury to tears, the change was backed by 57% of bishops, priests and lay members, said The Times. Traditionalists narrowly succeeded in amending the motion to state that the church’s doctrine of marriage – that it is between a man and a woman – remained in place. The move came as the Church announced it was considering a proposal to begin referring to God in gender-neutral terms, rather than using traditional male pronouns
Amsterdam clamps down on ‘zombies’
Amsterdam has banned cannabis in its red light district. Sex workers will also have to close their venues at 3am under the new laws that will come into effect from mid-May. The new rules were announced after “increasingly desperate complaints” about problems caused by some tourists following the end of pandemic restrictions, said Dutch News. A local politician complained of “glassy-eyed tourist zombies staggering about”.
Pence could testify against Trump
The former US vice-president Mike Pence has been subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s role in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. Jack Smith, the former war crimes prosecutor, issued the subpoena to Pence, teeing up a potential scenario that could see Pence testifying in a criminal investigation of his former boss as both men compete for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. The subpoena follows months of negotiations between federal prosecutors and Pence’s legal team, said ABC News.
Calls for ‘honest’ review of Afghanistan
MPs have said that the government should hold an “open, honest and detailed review” of the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021. A 30-page report from the cross-party Commons Defence Committee said a review is of “critical importance” and should cover military operations and political decisions from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the final evacuation. It also calls on the government to explain what action it is taking to ensure safe passage to the UK for several thousand Afghans still eligible for evacuation.
UK dampens jets speculation
The defence secretary has said that Ukraine is unlikely to receive British fighter jets until after the war with Russia is over. After Volodymyr Zelensky finished his speech in London earlier this week by saying “thank you in advance for powerful English planes”, Rishi Sunak said the prospect of gifting fighter jets was now “part of the conversation”. However, Ben Wallace said that although the UK will be the first nation to start training Ukrainian pilots on Nato-standard aircraft, “Britain hasn’t said it is necessarily going to send fighter jets to Ukraine”.
Knife murders at all-time high
Knife murders in England and Wales have reached their highest level since records began 76 years ago. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that there were 282 homicides committed with a knife in the year to March 2022, a 19% increase on the previous 12 months. A study found that knife crime was driven by a “combination of poverty, marginalisation from society, adverse childhood experiences, trauma, fear and victimisation, including exploitation from gangs”, said The Times.