The Telegraph 2024-01-30 08:53:24


French farmers lay siege to Paris with vow to cut off food

Hundreds of tractors laid siege to Paris on Monday as farmers furious at French and European rules said they intended to “starve Parisians”.

Long lines of tractors blocked motorways at eight entry points to the city as one militant union promised to take control of the world’s biggest fresh food market.

“[Blockading Paris] will happen naturally. Parisians are going to be hungry. The goal is to starve Parisians. That’s it”, said Benoît Durand, a grain farmer.

Mr Durand, like thousands of others, said he was struggling against low income, red tape and environmental policies that were pushing costs up. President Emmanuel Macron, who is under mounting pressure to reassert his authority, was set to announce new measures for farmers as early as Tuesday, the Elysée said.

The protests follow similar action in other European countries, including Germany and Poland, ahead of European Parliament elections in June in which the hard-Right are making gains.

The main farming unions do not back strangling Paris’s food supplies but on Monday night angry farmers refused to move, setting up barbecues on motorways and sleeping in trailers.

In the event of major disruption, Paris would only have three days’ food supplies, as deliveries are made every day, according to Ademe, a government agency.

A group of 90 tractors left Agen, southwestern France, on Monday morning with the aim of “occupying” the Rungis food market, where more than 8,000 tons of goods pass through to feed nearly 12 million people every day.

The tractors were due to reach the market, dubbed “the belly of Paris”, by Tuesday night or Wednesday at the latest. Their ranks were expected to swell considerably along the way. Some 10,000 farmers and 5,000 farm vehicles took part in action around the country, French police sources said on Monday.

Armoured military vehicles were dispatched to the market and 15,000 police and gendarmes were deployed around the country to prevent tractors from entering Paris and other major cities.

Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said he had ordered security forces to show moderation, but also warned farmers not to cross certain red lines. These included cutting off Paris’s main airports or Rungis.

“We don’t intend to allow government buildings, or tax collection buildings, or grocery stores to be damaged or trucks transporting foreign produce to be stopped. Obviously, that is unacceptable,” he said.

The government has tried to appease the protesters with a string of concessions in recent days. On Friday, it dropped plans to gradually reduce state subsidies on agricultural diesel and promised a reduction in red tape and an easing of environmental regulations.

Unions said that was not enough and pledged to step up the pressure.

Spirits were high on Monday night on the A1 highway at Chennevières-lès-Louvres, within sight of Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, 25 kilometres north of Paris.

As night fell, farmers warmed their hands around bonfires and barbecued sausages as they sipped wine and beer. Behind, their tractors formed an impregnable convoy blocking off the capital.

As fires raged, Soft Cell’s UK hit “Tainted Love” and Madness’ “One Step Beyond” blasted over the farmers’ sound system as they chomped on beef burgers and temperatures approached zero.

“We’re here because we’ve had enough, we want to defend our pay, we’ve had enough of all the excessive red tape that’s even worse in France than the rest of Europe,” said Robin Leduc, 30, who runs a 200-hectare farm in Canly, not far from the tractor checkpoint.

“The government has to act fast then we can all go home as we have work to do on our farms.”

Mr Leduc said he had found an unlikely British ally in the shape of Jeremy Clarkson, who has gained plaudits for the Amazon Prime series Clarkson’s Farm, which charts his attempts at running a 1,000-acre farm in the Cotswolds.

“We need a French celebrity to do the same as Jeremy Clarkson. Everything he explains in it is why we are here today. You may have left the EU, but we share many of the same problems regarding all these environmental rules.”

The government has been trying to keep discontent among farmers from spreading ahead of European Parliament elections in June, seen as a key test for Mr Macron’s government.

On Monday, the government said it would push its EU peers to agree to ease regulations on fallow farmland. Farmers must currently meet certain conditions to receive EU subsidies, including a requirement to devote four per cent of farmland to “non-productive” areas where nature can recover.

With cheap imports a burning issue, Mr Macron’s office also said he had told the European Commission it was impossible to conclude trade deal negotiations with South America’s Mercosur bloc. The president’s office believes it has an understanding that the EU has put an end to the talks.

The French president will make a push for more pro-farming policies at an EU summit on Thursday.

Henri Haquin, 43, who runs a 300-hectare farm in Bregy, north of Paris, said: “We get the feeling that Brussels doesn’t understand what we do and comes up with new laws every month that are difficult to understand and work with.”

He also has a real estate business to make ends meet, saying he won’t make a profit from his farm until he has paid off bank loans in a decade.

“Life on the farm is more and more difficult to make ends meet. We fear for the new generations. The main problem is unfair competition, lots of products from elsewhere without the same norms,” he said. “This is the only way we’ve found to get the government going”.

However, he insisted: “We clearly don’t want to starve Parisians. Only a small minority wants to block Rungis. For now, 90 per cent of the French are behind us. If we do that we’ll lose that support. We simply want to put pressure on the government and get solutions and go back on some laws we find completely ridiculous and inapplicable.

“All of the farmers in Europe are starting to move and say they can’t work with European laws as they are and I hope this can change things.”

Protests have taken place elsewhere in Europe, including in neighbouring Belgium, where farmers have stepped up their campaign against the administrative burden placed on them, including disrupting motorway traffic at the Daussoulx interchange near Namur.

Véronique Le Floc’h, president of France’s hard-Right-leaning Coordination Rurale union, said on Monday that farmers would target the Rungis market to “show the consequences if there are no more farmers tomorrow”.

She said that she wanted to “identify the proportion of imports and what type of products come in” to the market. In recent days, farmers have seized shipments from Belgium, Spain and Poland, scattering them across the highway and setting fire to them.

Marc Fesneau, the French agriculture minister, outlined a list of government “priorities” for farmers on Monday. These included tougher inspections on provenance of food products and “Frenchifiying farm products”, without providing more details.

White House drawing up plans for revenge strike on Iranian militia

The White House was drawing up plans for a revenge strike against Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East on Monday night, following a drone attack that killed three American troops.

Joe Biden held two private meetings with his national security team to discuss the “unacceptable” attack, which officials said would be met with military force.

John Kirby, the White House’s national security spokesman, appeared to rule out a direct attack on Iranian soil and said the US would not “escalate” the conflict, but added: “We will absolutely do what is required to protect ourselves.”

Tony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said Washington’s response could be “multi-levelled, come in stages and be sustained over time”.

The Pentagon is thought to be considering launching counter-attacks against Iranian-backed troops in the region, and could target facilities used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iranian military.

Mr Kirby pledged a “very consequential response” but cautioned that the US was “not seeking conflict with the regime in a military way”.

The administration’s latest comments came as it released the names of the three US Army Reserve troops killed in the attack in northern Jordan on Sunday morning.

Sgt William Rivers, 46, Specialist Kennedy Sanders, 24, and Specialist Breonna Moffett, 23, died when the drone struck their container housing units, the Pentagon said. They are the first US troops to be killed in the Middle East since the start of the current conflict on Oct 7.

Officials said the drone, which also injured dozens more troops, appeared to have been mistaken for an American unmanned craft and had not been targeted by US air defences at an American base near the Syrian border.

Mr Biden is under mounting pressure from military hawks in Congress to launch a retaliatory strike against Iran. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, called for “serious, crippling costs” for the regime, “not only on front-line terrorist proxies, but on their Iranian sponsors who wear American blood as a badge of honour”.

Iran denied any responsibility for the drone, calling attempts by America to link it to the conflict “a repetition of baseless accusations”.

Nasser Kanaani, an Iranian ministry spokesman, said: “The groups in the region do not take orders from Iran.

“War is not a solution. An immediate ceasefire in Gaza can lead to the return of peace.”

The Iran-backed Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), a loose umbrella group of Iran-backed Islamist groups, has claimed credit for the attack, although Mr Kirby said US intelligence officials had not confirmed which group was responsible.

DUP agrees deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont

The Democratic Unionist Party executive has agreed on a deal to return to power-sharing at Stormont, the party’s leader has said.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson announced on Monday night that the agreement will allow the DUP to form an executive in Northern Ireland, where the party has boycotted parliament for nearly two years.

He added that the deal is subject to new legislation being passed in parliament and an agreement on its timetable.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris welcomed the step and made clear the Government would deliver on its end of the deal.

The announcement came after a meeting of the of the 130-strong party executive in Co Down that lasted more than five hours.

The DUP leader said the vote on the deal had been “decisive” but he faced criticism from party members, some of whom spoke out against the deal at the meeting.

“We will only be able to move after the government faithfully delivers on the implementation of its legal and other commitments,” Sir Jeffrey told reporters at a press conference after 1am on Tuesday morning.

“Both our party officers and party executive have mandated me to move forward.. on the basis of the proposals brought forward by the government, subject to and on the basis of the government delivering measures of that package.”

Commitments over Brexit

The DUP shuttered the Northern Ireland executive nearly two years ago in protest against trade arrangements in the Brexit deal.

The party has also urged Rishi Sunak to make changes to the Windsor Framework, which was formally adopted by Britain and the European Union last March.

Sir Jeffrey said the “legislation commitments” agreed with Westminster will “remove checks on goods moving within the UK and remaining in NI, and end NI blindly following EU laws”.

He added: “There will be legislation protecting the Acts of Union, which guarantees unfettered access for Northern Ireland business to the rest of the UK.”

He hit back at reports from inside the meeting that party members had expressed a sense of “betrayal” over the deal.

Responding to reports by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, who was live tweeting claims from inside the executive meeting, Sir Jeffrey insisted that the posts did not reflect what happened in the room, and described that as a “misrepresentation”.

“It disappoints me there may have been someone in that meeting who may have been prepared to share information,” he said.

“No one tonight in our meeting at any stage or in meetings of my party officers has ever used the word ‘betrayal’, but it was used tonight to describe someone who was leaking information from a private meeting.”

Around 50 loyalist and unionist protesters assembled outside Monday night’s meeting at the Larchfield estate in Co Down, many carrying posters and banners warning against a DUP “sellout”.

Some shouted at DUP members as they drove into the grounds of the venue.

‘Welcome and significant step’

Sir Jeffrey added that he was “confident” in the progress achieved in the meeting and said he believed the Government could move “quickly” to bring forward the necessary legislation.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said she was optimistic Stormont could return before Feb 8, the next legislative deadline for forming an administration.

“Sinn Fein will now engage with the parties and both governments to ensure we now all press on without delay,” Ms McDonald said.

“It is vital there is political stability to address the scale of the crisis across our public services.

“Let’s now focus minds on the job at hand and to the solutions required to support workers and families who want and deserve functioning government.”

Mr Heaton-Harris said: “This is a welcome and significant step.

“I am grateful to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and colleagues for the constructive dialogue over the past months and to the other political parties in Northern Ireland for the patience they have shown during this time.

“I am pleased that the DUP have agreed to accept the package of measures that the UK government has put forward and as a result they are ready to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly and nominate representatives to the Northern Ireland Executive.

“Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said this is subject to the binding commitments between the Democratic Unionist Party and the UK government – I can confirm that we will stick to this agreement.

“I now believe that all the conditions are in place for the Assembly to return, the parties entitled to form an Executive are meeting tomorrow to discuss these matters and I hope to be able to finalise this deal with the political parties as soon as possible.”

What the King and Kate’s contrasting hospital departures show about their royal instincts

The King walked out of hospital with a wave and a smile, his wife by his side as cameras clicked and wellwishers shouted from windows and pavements around them.

Hours earlier, the Princess of Wales was ushered out of the same clinic unseen, only a written statement confirming her safe discharge home to her bed and her children.

Over the course of three hours, it was a snapshot of modern royal history in the making.

Two generations, two hospital stays and two very different approaches there for the watching world to see.

It signposts, of course, the severity of their surgeries: the 75-year-old monarch given routine treatment for an enlarged prostate, while the 42-year-old Princess had planned major surgery requiring many weeks of recuperation.

It also captures, in a neat tableau, the very different instincts of the two senior generations of the Royal family – the current King and Queen and future king and queen working together, separately.

Charles III plumped for an awareness-raising campaign and steadying stroll out of hospital to prove there is no royal crisis unfolding.

The Princess quietly returned to the three children who have been without her for two weeks, offering via statement a “huge thank you” to nursing staff and those who had sent their best wishes.

It offered a contrast with the Princess the public will remember leaving hospital after having Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. Then, she was photographed three times on hospital steps with a newborn in her arms and a proud husband at her side.

In this latest hospitalisation, Prince William has been photographed just once, looking as tense as one might expect a worried spouse to appear.

Their children have not been seen visiting, nor have her close Middleton family.

The Wales’s office has taken a strict policy of declining to offer updates on her unnamed condition, repeating only that she wishes for her personal medical details to remain private.

In response, good taste and respect have prevailed. The Princess’s health, in a hereditary monarchy, is indeed a matter of public interest, but (aside from the sewer of social media), the British people’s restraint in demanding details is admirable.

The Kensington Palace way, to offer limited information on its own terms at its own time, is set.

Led by Prince William, whose unapologetic instinct to protect his family comes first, it will likely see the Princess out of the public eye until she is fully back on her feet.

The King’s team, in contrast, has virtually shouted his diagnosis from the rooftops, in a laudable public awareness campaign that is already bearing fruit in a measurable rise in men seeking information about prostate health.

The Queen has walked in and out of the clinic no less than five times, looking relieved after the procedure went well and understood to have simply wanted to keep him company.

Simple as it sounds, it is a major departure from the more typical royal tendencies in years gone by of steering clear of personal hospital visits in favour of ploughing on with public duties.

“I have to be seen to be believed,” the late Queen Elizabeth II was fond of saying.

Her son and heir shows every sign of following that policy to the letter.

At a time of real uncertainty, with two senior royals out of action for a month, the King as Head of State has proactively shown the world he is fit and ready for work again.

His image, and that of his supportive wife, will be beamed across the world in a deliberate sign that all is well.

The timing, which is coincidental, meant that the spotlight of royal news was split.

The King has done his duty by steadying the ship. The Princess is free to convalesce in peace.

The Queen will continue with planned engagements as she has been doing all week. The Prince of Wales will return to his own once Catherine is settled at home.

Two generations, two hospital stays, two very different approaches it may be. But it is also one family.

Alzheimer’s passed to patients from corpses

Alzheimer’s disease was passed to patients given hormones extracted from corpses, scientists have shown for the first time.

Five people are believed to have developed Alzheimer’s after they were treated with a human growth hormone that inadvertently contained the seeds of dementia.

The tainted hormone was given to more than 1,800 children of short stature in the UK between 1959 and 1995 before being withdrawn when it was shown to trigger Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

Now, scientists at University College London (UCL) have found that the same batch responsible for cases of CJD also appears to have triggered Alzheimer’s in some patients. The youngest developed dementia symptoms at just 38 years old.

Professor John Collinge, director of the UCL Institute of Prion Diseases and a consultant neurologist, lead author of the research, said: “We are not suggesting for a moment you can catch Alzheimer’s disease. You can’t catch it by being a carer or living with a husband or wife with the disease.

“The patients we have described were given a specific and long-discontinued medical treatment which involved injecting patients with material now known to have been contaminated with disease-related proteins.

“However, the recognition of transmission in these rare situations should lead us to review measures to prevent accidental transmission via other medical or surgical procedures, in order to prevent such cases occurring in future.”

Amyloid-beta proteins found in hormone

British scientists initially stumbled across the discovery while studying the brains of eight people who died of CJD after being injected with a human growth hormone.

Unexpectedly, four of the patients had huge levels of amyloid beta protein – a sticky deposit that forms among brain cells and stops them communicating with each other properly.

Although none had developed dementia, scientists say it is likely they would have, had they lived longer.

Researchers then tracked down the original growth hormone which had been stored by the Department of Health, and found it contained the misfolded amyloid-beta proteins implicated in Alzheimer’s.

When they injected the banned hormone into the brains of mice, the animals began to develop the signs of neurodegenerative disease.

Scientists discovered that five people treated with the hormone have developed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease despite being aged just 38 to 55. None were at genetic risk for the condition.

First author Dr Gargi Banerjee, of the UCL Institute of Prion Diseases, said: “We have found that it is possible for amyloid-beta pathology to be transmitted and contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“This transmission occurred following treatment with a now obsolete form of growth hormone, and involved repeated treatments with contaminated material, often over several years. There is no indication that Alzheimer’s disease can be acquired from close contact, or during the provision of routine care.”

Amyloid proteins come in different strains

It is thought that the misfolded amyloid proteins clump together in “stacks” that grow over time until they get so long that they snap, creating new “seeds”.

Each seed continues to grow, until this unfettered accumulation of amyloid in the brain starts to kill brain cells.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, executive director of research and partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This study has revealed more about how amyloid fragments can spread within the brain, providing further clues on how Alzheimer’s disease progresses and potential new targets for the treatments of tomorrow.”

There have been no reported cases of Alzheimer’s acquired from any other medical or surgical procedures but the experts said it was important to review measures and possibly bring in better decontamination methods for surgical equipment.

The team also discovered that the amyloid proteins come in different strains, like viruses, and drugs which target the main strain could allow less dominant forms to develop, which are untreatable.

Co-author Professor Jonathan Schott, honorary consultant neurologist at UCL, said: “These findings provide potentially valuable insights into disease mechanisms, and pave the way for further research which we hope will further our understanding of the causes of more typical, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.”

Commenting on the new research, Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research and innovation at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It is not known how common Alzheimer’s transmission was in the 1,800 people who had this treatment and the study only looked at the records of eight people.

“Nowadays, patients receive synthetic alternatives which have been approved for safety and do not pose a risk of transmitting diseases.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

BBC staff told not to hire candidates who are ‘dismissive’ of diversity

BBC staff are being told not to hire candidates who are “dismissive” of diversity and inclusion, The Telegraph can disclose.

A recruitment policy document says applicants should be asked to “explain what diversity and inclusion means to you and, should you be successful, what opportunities do you see for you to promote, celebrate or encourage diversity and inclusion in your role?”

The guidelines, used in a major non-editorial department of the BBC, tell recruiters: “Don’t hire [candidates who are] unsuited to the organisation” if they are “dismissive or derisory of diversity and inclusion and surrounding topics”.

Managers are also directed not to offer jobs to candidates who show a “lack of interest in learning more where no evidence of education and understanding of diversity and inclusion was given”.

Critics have claimed that diversity and inclusion can be a way for organisations to promote controversial ideas.

Earlier this month, The Telegraph revealed that ministers were planning a crackdown on civil servants “using their jobs as a vehicle for political activism” in relation to diversity and inclusion initiatives.

‘Excludes most conservative-minded people’

Commenting on the recruitment guidelines, a BBC source said: “The BBC is not a welcoming place for those with conservative opinions. Management talks about diversity without embracing diversity of thought. 

“The place that I have given years of my working life, and that I sincerely cherish, currently feels captured by Left-wing activists and is unable to deliver on our core principle of impartiality.

“Hiring on the basis of adherence to diversity and inclusion ideology excludes most conservative-minded people, and indeed much of the population.”

Robin Aitken, a former BBC journalist and author, said: “These guidelines illustrate just how embedded DEI [Diversity, Equality and Inclusion] ideology is in the BBC. The rules act as a mechanism to maintain groupthink and screen out anyone who is sceptical of this novel doctrine of diversity and inclusion.”

“The BBC is now hiring not on the basis of skill or merit, but instead on people’s political attitudes to diversity.”

‘Advocate or ally’

The corporation said that, in January last year, it had replaced the recruitment guidelines with a new framework that assesses candidates against “BBC values and behaviours”, but the old policy was still in use during a transition period.

The guidelines also tell managers what makes a suitable BBC employee. They state that recruiters should look for applicants who “will elevate our culture from the outset”, who are “an advocate or ally” and help “everyone feel included and that they have a voice in work”.

Candidates are described as “suitable” if they understand “that diversity is not always visible to the eye”, are aware “of [their] own language and behaviour”, and educate “oneself and [share] knowledge with others”.

It is advised that applicants are given 10 minutes to answer questions on diversity and inclusion.

The BBC declined to comment.

First human receives Neuralink brain chip implant, says Elon Musk

The billionaire who runs Tesla has claimed that the first human has successfully received a computer brain implant.

On the social media network X, Elon Musk wrote: “The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well.”

Mr Musk added that: “Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.”

The statement was made without further detail or third-party verification.

Neuralink, a start-up backed by Mr Musk, said last May that it had received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to begin human trials.

The company has subsequently been recruiting patients with paralysis, who could potentially benefit from implants to help them communicate and control external electronics.

The technology, if it ultimately proves successful, has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of disabled patients.

Neuralink has been developing “cosmetically invisible” implants that are hermetically sealed, powered by wireless charging from outside the body. The company says they process neural signals and transmit them wirelessly to a Neuralink app, which decodes them.

It has also developed a robot to insert the implants because “the threads of our implant are so fine that they can’t be inserted by the human hand.”

Last June, Reuters estimated that Neuralink, which was founded in 2016, was already worth around $5bn (£3.9bn) based on privately traded shares.

Mr Musk has spent years overcoming sceptics to grow businesses that many thought would fail. He took on the world’s established carmakers and turned Tesla, a startup, into one of America’s most-valuable companies.

A series of entrepreneurial bets has turned him into one of the world’s richest people. But his $44bn (£34.6bn) acquisition of Twitter, now X, in 2022 led to mounting criticism of his behaviour and generated concerns that he is spreading himself too thinly.

The backlash came to a head in November after the billionaire was accused of supporting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in a social media post. Advertisers including Apple, IBM and Disney cancelled their advertising with X.

Mr Musk conceded that his post was the “worst and dumbest I’ve ever done”.