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Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 3 February 2023

1

Shell’s £32bn profits problem

Pressure is growing on the government to impose a bigger windfall tax on energy companies after Shell reported the largest profits in its history. Thanks to the surge in energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the oil company’s annual takings have risen to $40bn (£32bn). The vast profits — “equivalent to just over £1,000 a second,” said the London Evening Standard — were among the biggest ever made by a British company. Opposition parties accused Rishi Sunak of letting fossil fuel companies “off the hook” and unions described the profits as “obscene”. The UK-headquartered company paid $134m in British windfall taxes last year.

Pros and cons of a windfall tax on oil and gas profits

2

EU rebuffs Ukraine hopes

European Union leaders will seek to temper Ukraine’s hopes of a fast track to membership at a summit with Volodymyr Zelenskyy today. After Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, said his country had “a very ambitious plan to join the European Union within the next two years”, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, will reportedly seek to cool expectations during today’s meeting in Kyiv. Zelenskyy is also thought to want to keep the pressure up on leaders when it comes to his request for fighter jets to bolster his country’s military.

Why is the West divided over fighter jets for Ukraine?

3

US tracking China balloon

The US is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted flying over sensitive sites in recent days, a discovery “that risks adding further strain to tense US-China relations”, said CNN. A Pentagon official said the US government has been tracking the balloon for several days as it made its way over Montana and other northern United States, adding it was “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground”. Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticised China’s alleged balloon. “The level of espionage aimed at our country by Beijing has grown dramatically more intense & brazen over the last 5 years,” he tweeted.

Why is the US waging a tech war on China?

4

Calls for prepayment pause

Ofgem has asked energy companies to suspend the forced installation of prepayment meters. Following an investigation by The Times, which discovered that debt agents for British Gas had broken into vulnerable people’s homes to fit meters, the energy regulator has asked all suppliers to review the use of court warrants to enter the homes of customers in arrears. Jonathan Brearley, the CEO of Ofgem, said he will “not hesitate to take the strongest action in our powers where needed”.

5

Indian students ‘arriving in small boats’

Indians are the third-largest group of migrants who have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year, according to The Times. Around 250 Indian migrants have arrived in small boats, a fifth of the 1,180 that have crossed in 2023. Home Office officials believe that Indian students are exploiting a loophole that allows asylum seekers to study in the UK and pay domestic rather than international fees. “The worry is that this is a longer-term trend with all the implications that holds of illegal migration from a country of more than one billion people,” said a Home Office source. Elsewhere, last night Rishi Sunak in an interview with TalkTV said new legislation would enable asylum claims from Channel migrants to be rejected “in a matter of days or weeks . . . not months and years”.

Can new asylum plans boost Sunak’s standing?

6

Trump takes aim at ‘gender insanity’

Donald Trump said he would seek legislation that only recognises two genders as he vowed go to war with “left-wing gender insanity” if he is re-elected. The Republican hopeful said he would push schools to “promote positive education about the nuclear family”, punish doctors offering gender reassignment care and bar transgender women from competing on women’s sports teams. The former president said he’d forbid government agencies from promoting “the concept of sex and gender transition at any age”.

7

Sunak vows to publish tax returns

Rishi Sunak has repeated his pledge to publish his tax returns, saying he will do so “shortly”. Speaking to Piers Morgan in a television interview, the prime minister said he was willing to be “transparent” and publish the documents, which were “being prepared”. Opposition parties have called on Sunak to be open about his finances after it emerged that his wife, Akshata Murty, had non-dom status and was not paying UK tax. Sunak is thought to be one of the richest MPs in Parliament.

‘Rishi Rich’: How the Sunaks made their fortune

8

Concern over Afghan promise

Hundreds of Afghan refugees who settled in London have been told they have only weeks to uproot and move 200 miles away. The government has told 40 families with 150 children, who have lived for more than a year in Kensington, that they must leave the capital for another Home Office hotel on the outskirts of Leeds. The Guardian said there are “deepening concerns” that the home secretary, Suella Braverman, has failed to uphold promises made by Boris Johnson to support Afghans who worked and fought alongside the UK in Afghanistan.

The row over migrant children missing from Home Office hotels

9

Gates prefers jabs to Mars

Bill Gates has told the BBC he would rather pay for vaccines than travel to Mars. “It’s actually quite expensive to go to Mars,” said the billionaire. “You can buy measles vaccines and save lives for $1,000 (£814) per life saved. And so [that] just kind of grounds you, as in – don’t go to Mars.” Responding to conspiracy theories which circulated at the start of the Covid pandemic, including that he started the virus himself to profit from it, he said: “I did not expect that.”

10

Everett ‘can solve Harry mystery’

Rupert Everett has said he knows who Prince Harry lost his virginity to, as recalled in the Duke of Sussex’s recent memoir. Speaking to The Telegraph, the actor said he knows the details of the “inglorious episode” in Duke of Sussex’s memoir, in which Harry romped in a field behind a countryside pub to a mystery woman.  “By the way,” said Everett, “I know who the woman he lost his virginity to is. And it wasn’t behind a pub. And it wasn’t in this country.” A source close to the Duke said: “Amazing that he would know such a personal detail better than Prince Harry himself.”

Spare reviews: Prince Harry’s royal memoir reveals anger and betrayal

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