EU ‘concessions’ on Brexit
The prime minister will hold “final talks” with the European Commission president on a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland today. Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen hope to finalise the agreement before a cabinet meeting to sign off on the deal. Sunak will then head to the House of Commons to sell the deal to MPs. Government sources told The Times that the agreement, which is expected to be published before Sunak addresses MPs, contained “far-reaching” concessions from the European Union.
US in Covid lab theory
A US government department has concluded that Covid-19 is most likely to have originated from a laboratory leak, reported the Wall Street Journal. The US energy department reached its conclusion with “low confidence” but has ruled out that Covid-19 was part of a Chinese biological weapons programme. However, four other agencies in the US still believe that the pandemic was the result of natural transmission and two others are undecided.
Marriage age rises to 18
New legislation increasing the legal age of marriage to 18 has come into force in England and Wales. Under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act, it is now a crime to exploit vulnerable children by arranging for them to marry, or enter a civil partnership, under any circumstances. Campaigners argued that a loophole allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent was being exploited to coerce young people into child marriage. Those found guilty of arranging child marriages face up to seven years in prison.
‘High watermark’ for house prices
The total value of all homes across the UK has reached a record high of £8.7tn, said an estate agent. The country’s 30 million homes were valued by Savills at a combined £8.68tn at the end of 2022, a rise of just over 5% or £425bn on a year earlier. A spokesperson said they expected 2022 to represent a “high watermark” for the value of the nation’s homes for the next few years and warned that rising mortgage costs are likely to cause a dip in 2023.
Settlers shot in West Bank
Two Israeli settlers have been shot and killed in the West Bank, sparking revenge attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, with at least one death. After “hours of riots”, Israeli forces managed to restore calm, said the Jerusalem Post. The shooting of the settlers took place in Huwara, south of Nablus, just days after a huge Israeli military raid into Nablus in search of wanted militants left at least 11 Palestinians dead. The US State Department said that it “condemns the violence in the West Bank”.
Treasury hiding ‘stealth’ austerity, says thinktank
The government is hiding £28bn of “stealth cuts” to public services over the next five years, said a report from a left-leaning thinktank. The New Economics Foundation found that Treasury’s spending plans included cuts to public services worth £1,000 a household by 2027-28. Responding to the report, the TUC said that “good schools, hospitals, childcare and transport are vital” but “the Tories keep attacking them”. A Treasury spokesperson said: “Total departmental spending will continue to grow in real terms over the spending review period.”
Missing Chinese broker ‘helping inquiry’
Billionaire broker Bao Fan is cooperating with Chinese authorities conducting an investigation, his bank said. China Renaissance Holdings reported 11 days ago that Bao, its chief executive, had gone missing. “The Board has become aware that Bao is currently cooperating in an investigation being carried out by certain authorities in the People’s Republic of China,” the bank said in a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. It did not provide any details about the investigation or Bao’s whereabouts. The company’s Hong Kong-listed shares have “plunged” 29%, said CNBC.
Watchdog calls for Begum return
Shamima Begum should be brought home, the government’s independent terrorism watchdog will argue. In a speech to King’s College London, Jonathan Hall KC will say that British or formerly British women should be allowed to return from Syria because “that is the position taken by key allies including the US”, reported The Times. Last week, Begum lost an appeal against the decision to remove her British citizenship despite a “credible” case that she was trafficked. The ruling by the special immigration appeals commission meant the 23-year-old remains unable to return to the UK and remains stuck in a camp in Syria.
Energy prices to rise again
A 20% rise in energy costs in April would push 1.7m more homes into crisis, it has been claimed. Jeremy Hunt plans to increase the maximum the average household pays for dual fuel from £2,500 to £3,000 a year from April. Charity National Energy Action said the changes would mean the number of households in fuel poverty rising from 6.7m to 8.7m. “The Tories are failing to represent the interests of the British people,” said The Mirror.
Model’s body parts found
The body parts of a top international model have been found in a soup pot, the South China Morning Post reported. The police have charged the ex-husband and former in-laws of Abby Choi, 28, after her body parts were reportedly found at a house connected to the family. Choi had reportedly been involved in financial disputes with her ex-husband and his family.