The Guardian 2024-02-04 16:02:44


Houthis vow more Red Sea attacks after third wave of US-UK strikes on Yemen

Houthis vow more Red Sea attacks after third wave of US-UK strikes on Yemen

Washington says assault targeted 13 locations, including underground weapons stores, missile systems and launchers

  • Middle East crisis: latest news updates

A third wave of US and UK strikes hit 36 Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday night, prompting a vow from the militant group to continue attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

The assault was supported by six other countries, including Canada, the Netherlands and Bahrain. The US said the strikes targeted 13 locations across Yemen and hit underground weapons storage facilities, missile systems, launchers and other capabilities the Iranian-backed Houthis have used to attack Red Sea shipping.

The UK foreign secretary, David Cameron, defended the strikes. “We have issued repeated warnings to the Houthis,” he said. “Their reckless actions are putting innocent lives at risk, threatening the freedom of navigation and destabilising the region. The Houthi attacks must stop.” The US and UK previously launched joint strikes on 11 and 23 January.

The assault came the day after the Pentagon struck Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria in reprisal for the killing of three US soldiers at a military base on the Jordan-Syria border a week earlier.

The larger strategic conflict pits the US – which is trying to press Tehran into reining in its allied forces across the region – against Iran, which is determined to aid those forces to put pressure on the US to leave the region and for Hamas not to be destroyed in Gaza.

Neither Washington or Tehran, however, want to slip into direct conflict. Tehran has set a red line by telling the US not to mount any direct attack on Iranian soil, the course favoured by many US Republicans.

Explaining the reasoning for the attacks on the Houthis, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said: “This collective action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels.”

His UK counterpart, Grant Shapps, said: “The Houthis’ attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea are illegal and unacceptable and it is our duty to protect innocent lives and preserve freedom of navigation.

“That is why the Royal Air Force engaged in a third wave of proportionate and targeted strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen.

“This is not an escalation. We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities.

The Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said the strikes “will not pass without a response and consequences”. The Houthis said 48 attacks had been launched, including 13 in the capital, Sana’a.

Military and diplomatic experts are divided on whether the strikes will undermine the Houthi’s military and political base along the Red Sea coast and in the north of the country, including Sana’a. The group, which is armed and advised by Iran but is not a full-scale client agent, feels it has gained prestige in the Middle East by taking the lead in acting in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Its strikes have successfully deterred commercial shipping from using one of the world’s busiest waterways, pushing up transport costs and insurance premiums.

The Yemen strikes, now in their third week, are running in parallel to Washington’s continuing retaliation for repeated attacks on US military bases in Iraq, Jordan and Syria. It carried out its first wave of attacks on Friday, striking more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the militias it backs, reportedly killing nearly 40 people.

The strikes in Iraq, telegraphed by the Pentagon for a week, do not appear to have killed any Iranian military advisers and were largely focused on munitions dumps of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, the umbrella group for militias operating in the country.

Iraq and Russia have called for an emergency meeting of the UN security council in New York on Monday to condemn the US actions. Iraq, which is caught in the crossfire of the dispute between Washington and Tehran, suffered a further invasion of its sovereignty last month when Iran hit what it claimed was a Mossad-linked spy headquarters in Erbil.

The strikes have reignited an already inflamed and long-running debate about the continued US troop presence in Iraq, and whether they are in the country to defeat Islamic State or further US interests.

Iraq’s national security adviser, Qasim al-Araji, said: “This aggressive strike will put security in Iraq and the region on the brink of abyss, and it also contradicts efforts to establish the required stability.”

In a sign of Iraqi sympathies, Araji met Abu Idris al-Sharafi, the special representative of the Houthi leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi last week, when the two sides “confirmed that the war in Gaza is the reason for the escalation in the region and its continuation is dragging the region into a war with dire consequences. The war must be stopped and the suffering of the Palestinian people must be lifted.”

Within hours of the US strikes, Islamic Resistance claimed to have targeted three US bases in Syria and Iraq, including the al-Tanf bases at the border triangle between Jordan, Iraq and Syria, and another base in Erbil, northern Iraq.

The statement of support for the US and UK strikes on the Houthis was confined at least initially to Australia, Canada, Bahrain, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Denmark.

The EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called on all parties on Saturday to avoid further escalation in the Middle East. “Everybody should try to avoid the situation becoming explosive,” he said. “Certainly every attack contributes to the escalation, and the ministers have expressed their serious concern for this process.

“We can only call on everybody to understand that at any moment from this series of attacks and counterattacks, a spark can produce a greater incident”.

The EU is in the laborious process of launching its own naval mission in the Red Sea this month, designed to protect European shipping but not to undertake offensive operations.

IsraelAirstrikes kill scores in Gaza as fears grow of push into Rafah

Overnight Israeli airstrikes kill scores in Gaza as fears grow of push into Rafah

More than 127 reportedly killed in bombings, including in Rafah where over 1 million people are sheltering

  • Middle East crisis: latest news updates

Israeli airstrikes across Gaza killed scores of people overnight, amid growing fears of the military campaign intensifying in the southern city of Rafah, a tiny pocket of the territory where more than a million people are sheltering.

As Hamas reviewed a proposal for a halt in the nearly four-month war, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was expected to arrive in the region on Sunday, his fifth trip since the militant group attacked Israel on 7 October, killing at least 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage.

Blinken is expected to spend the week visiting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank to discuss a deal to secure the freedom of at least 136 remaining hostages in Gaza and a ceasefire intended to calm regional tensions, particularly in the Red Sea. His French counterpart, Stéphane Séjourné, has travelled to Egypt.

Bombardments across the Gaza Strip killed more than 127 people overnight, according to Gaza authorities, including strikes on two residential towers in Rafah, the southernmost area of the territory next to the border with Egypt that is housing more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population. A strike on a kindergarten in Rafah that had been converted into a makeshift shelter killed at least two, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“There’s widespread fear that the military operation will expand to reach Rafah governorate, leaving absolutely nowhere to go for the vast majority of the internally displaced population,” said Hisham Mhanna, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stationed in Rafah.

“It’s adding yet more fear, stress and anxiety especially as people are faced with unprecedented inhumane living conditions. They have been forced into trying to survive.

“It’s more important than ever to put an end to this bloodshed and protect anyone who can be saved in Gaza,” he said, pausing at the sound of a nearby explosion. “That was a bomb, they are happening non-stop,” he added.

Fears that Rafah could be in the crosshairs of Israeli forces come amid increasingly fierce divisions within Israel over the direction of the war, and pressure on mediators to reach a swift ceasefire agreement.

Bombardments of Gaza from land, air and sea have so far killed at least 27,000 people since October, with more than twice that number reported wounded and thousands more believed to be buried under the rubble.

Blinken is expected to arrive in the region shortly after Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, criticised Joe Biden in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying the US president had failed to fully support Israel and was “busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel [to Gaza], which goes to Hamas”.

“If Trump was in power, the US conduct would be completely different,” he said.

There is little evidence that the trickle of aid and fuel allowed into Gaza is supplying Hamas as needs increase for the Gaza population. The UN and the ICRC have warned of an impending famine affecting more than 2 million people.

The Israeli opposition leader, Yair Lapid, rebuked Ben-Gvir and his coalition partner, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ben-Gvir’s statements, Lapid wrote on X, were “a direct attack on Israel’s international status, a direct attack on the war effort, harmful to Israel’s security and above all proves that he understands nothing about foreign policy.

“I would call on the prime minister to restrain him, but Netanyahu has no control over the extremists in his government.”

A draft proposal put forward by the US along with mediators from the Qatari government would bring an initial 30-day pause in the fighting tied to the release of female, elderly and sick hostages. If successful, this would be followed by a second 30-day pause when male hostages and those Hamas considers active-duty soldiers would be released.

The structure of the deal is intended to allow for talks on a permanent end to the fighting, a long-term sticking point.

Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas’s politburo, told a press conference in Beirut on Saturday night that the group was mulling the proposed deal, but were focused on the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, a demand Netanyahu has repeatedly rebuffed.

Hamdan also called for an end to the 17-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and Israeli assistance for shelter and reconstruction efforts for most of Gaza’s population who have been displaced by the fighting, as well as “a serious prisoner swap”.

Mhanna said that as discussions continued, conditions in Rafah were worsening. “There is a daily struggle here for people to find food, water suitable for human consumption, any piece of wood they can use to light a fire and to keep their families warm as it’s become extremely cold and rainy this week,” he said.

Current estimates were that the overwhelming majority of the 1.93 million people displaced within Gaza were now in Rafah governorate, he said, an area of just 65 sq km, less than 20% of the territory’s land area.

Dalia Cusnir, whose two brothers-in-law are being held captive in Gaza, said she wanted the Israeli government to prioritise freeing hostages.

Despite rising criticism of Netanyahu’s leadership and threats from Ben-Gvir to pull out of the governing coalition, Cusnir said she felt the prime minister was capable of making politically difficult decisions and wanted him to do more.

She pointed to Netanyahu’s success in freeing the former soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas in Gaza and freed in 2011 as part of a prisoner swap.

“Bibi Netanyahu is my prime minister, he’s the prime minister of Israel and I’m not challenging that. For me, he’s the one that can bring the hostages back. He brought back Gilad Shalit, he knows how to do it, he knows how to deal with the public when it means paying a high or difficult price,” she said.

“Looking at what Netanyahu is saying, I just feel confused. I feel like he wants to bring back 136 bodies,” she said.

LiveUS plans more strikes in Middle East against Iran-backed groups

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said there would be more steps in the American response to the Jordan drone attack that killed three soldiers last weekend.

Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, Sullivan was quoted as saying:

We intend to take additional strikes, and additional action, to continue to send a clear message that the United States will respond when our forces are attacked, when our people are killed.

“What happened on Friday was the beginning, not the end, of our response, and there will be more steps – some seen, some perhaps unseen,” Sullivan told CBS’s Face the Nation. “I would not describe it as some open-ended military campaign,” he added.

The comments come after an air assault by the US in Iraq and Syria on Friday that attacked more than 80 targets on sites belonging to Iran-linked militias and Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard.

UKAction against Houthis ‘not an escalation’, says Grant Shapps

UK action against Houthis ‘not an escalation’, says Grant Shapps

Defence secretary says third joint UK-US assault on Iran-backed group is to protect lives and ‘preserve freedom of navigation’

The UK has joined the US for a third time in conducting a wave of airstrikes on Iran-linked Houthi targets in Yemen.

The defence secretary, Grant Shapps, said the fresh assaults were “not an escalation”, but instead were designed to “protect innocent lives and preserve freedom of navigation” in the Red Sea amid Houthi attacks on boats.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s were supported by Voyager tankers during the joint mission on Saturday with Washington, as they targeted locations in Yemen used by the Houthis.

The Iran-backed militant group has repeatedly launched attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and elsewhere off the Yemen coast, claiming it is targeting Israeli or Israel-destined ships in protest over the war with Hamas in Gaza.

However, it has frequently targeted ships with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, endangering shipping on a key global trade route.

As a result of the clashes in the southern Red Sea and the Bab al Mandab Strait, vessels have had to be redirected around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, a journey that takes longer and is more costly.

The combined strikes follow an air assault by the US in Iraq and Syria on Friday that targeted other Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for the drone strike that killed three American troops in Jordan last weekend.

During Saturday’s attacks, RAF Typhoons used precision-guided bombs against several military targets at three locations, the MoD said.

Allied intelligence had calculated some of the stations were being used to launch drone attacks and to spy on cargo ships and western warships, according to the Whitehall department.

The ministry said the night-time raids were designed to ensure minimal risk of civilian casualties.

Shapps said: “The Houthis’ attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea are illegal and unacceptable and it is our duty to protect innocent lives and preserve freedom of navigation.

“That is why the Royal Air Force engaged in a third wave of proportionate and targeted strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen.

“We acted alongside our US allies, with the support of many international partners, in self-defence and in accordance with international law.

“This is not an escalation. We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities.”

A joint statement on the strikes from the UK, US, Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand said it was “an additional round of proportionate and necessary strikes against 36 Houthi targets across 13 locations in Yemen”.

It said the assault was in response to “a series of illegal, dangerous, and destabilising Houthi actions” since previous coalition strikes on 11 and 22 January.

Biden wins big in South Carolina

‘Making Donald Trump a loser again’: Biden wins big in South Carolina

President derided Trump after easily winning first primary contest for Democratic presidential nomination

President Joe Biden won his first official primary election in a season that has become increasingly predictable with each contest.

Biden and the Democratic National Committee had successfully lobbied to thwart tradition and designate South Carolina the first contest for the party’s presidential nomination instead of Iowa and New Hampshire. On Saturday, Biden handily won more than 95% of the vote in the state that had launched his campaign in 2020. Long-shot candidates Dean Phillips, a congressman from Minnesota, and Marianne Williamson, a self-help author, trailed far behind.

In two weeks, Donald Trump is expected to capture the win in the Republican primary in the same state, which Biden directly addressed in his statement soon after his victory was confirmed.

“In 2020, it was the voters of South Carolina who proved the pundits wrong, breathed new life into our campaign, and set us on the path to winning the Presidency,” he said. “Now in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the Presidency again – and making Donald Trump a loser – again.”

While Biden’s victory was a foregone conclusion in the state, voter turnout served as a proxy for enthusiasm about his candidacy, especially among the significant Black voting population. Leading up to the primary, there had been some signals he has lost traction among Black voters since 2020: his approval rating among Black adults is 42% in the latest Associated Press-Norc Center for Public Affairs Research poll, a substantial drop from the first year of his presidency.

In South Carolina, the results were mixed. Democrats touted early voting numbers: “With results still coming in, Black voters made up approximately 76% of the early vote – a significant increase over 2020, where Black voters made up 56% of the primary electorate,” said Michael Tyler, the Biden-Harris campaign’s communications director.

But overall voter turnout was on track to be much lower than previous primary years, indicating that even the high stakes of a Biden-Trump rematch might not be enough to mobilize voters for the incumbent. The campaign is hoping that the recent strong economic indicators will bolster Biden’s low approval rating, fueled by voter hesitations about his handling of the Israel-Gaza war, immigration and other domestic issues.

But the Phillips campaign, which had just upwards of 2,000 votes, tried to capitalize on the turnout issue anyway.

“I congratulate the President for getting the most votes tonight. But the lack of voter enthusiasm for a Trump-Biden rematch is being reflected in each and every Democratic primary result this election,” Phillips said in a statement on Saturday. “Voters are disappointed that they lack options beyond the choice between a threat to the fabric of the nation and a good man who voters want to pass the baton.”

While the national picture has yet to play out more fully, poll workers and state Democrats celebrated a successful election process, and South Carolina’s new status, on Saturday.

Sam Skardon, chairman of the Charleston county Democratic party, said he was happy volunteers and voters came “to gather and celebrate being first in the nation and all the work that everyone has put in it”.

“Everyone here volunteered long and hard to make this primary successful and to keep us in the top of the Democratic election cycle for years to come,” he said. “It means a lot for our party. It means a lot for our state. So thank you all so much.”

Jaime Harrison, chair of the DNC and himself a Black South Carolinian, spoke with reporters in Columbia on Saturday night and touted the state’s new significance on Saturday: “For South Carolina to go first is now a badge of honour and pride for so many folks,” he said.

AnalysisSouth Carolina delivers a win, but Biden still faces an uphill path

‘The weirdest campaign’: South Carolina delivers a win, but Biden still faces an uphill path

David Smith in Columbia, South Carolina

The president’s decisive victory in the first Democratic primary belies a difficult campaign ahead with various strikes against him

Surprise! Joe Biden won the Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina with a high-90s percentage that would make even Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un blush.

But despite the low energy and low turnout, there was a wider narrative on Saturday about representation, the changing face of the US and a rebuke to the white identity politics of Donald Trump.

Biden, 81, may be a stick-in-the-mud but it was he who last year tore up the tradition, which took hold in earnest with Jimmy Carter in 1976, of Iowa and New Hampshire going first in picking the Democratic candidate for president.

At his behest, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) rearranged the electoral calendar so that South Carolina would have first say in shaping the race this time. That South Carolina is also that state that revived Biden’s ailing 2020 campaign probably didn’t do its cause any harm.

Still, anyone who spent parts of last month freezing in Iowa and New Hampshire after the Republican primary was reminded how demographically unrepresentative those states are. Both are about 90% white. At Trump’s campaign rallies, unsurprisingly, the whiteness appeared even more monolithic.

In South Carolina, however, one in four residents is Black. The state is more in keeping with a rainbow nation where Republicans appear to be in denial that white Christians are no longer the majority. Biden’s decision to put it first was more important than any worries about enthusiasm or turnout on Saturday.

“For South Carolina to go first is now a badge of honour and pride for so many folks,” Jaime Harrison, chair of the DNC and himself a Black South Carolinian, told reporters in Columbia on Saturday night. “I had one woman who was just teary-eyed with me when I was on the trail and just talking about the importance and the significance of going first.

“Hearing the stories about people who could not vote and having those memories yourself and now hearing us talk about ‘the hands that picked cotton are now the hands that are picking presidents’ – that is impactful, it’s powerful, and that is the imagery that is important for the nation to see and understand.”

Still, the final days before the historic vote felt somewhat anticlimactic thanks to a combination of Biden’s dominance as incumbent, feeble opposition from Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson, and the lack of a Republican primary on the same day (which will take place later in the month).

It was all a far cry from the blockbuster 2016 primary season, when Trump was knocking out Republican stiffs while Bernie Sanders was giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money. On Friday Kamala Harris, the vice-president, drew only a modest crowd at a university in Orangeburg.

On Saturday, Democrats threw a watch party at the South Carolina state fairgrounds in Columbia, serving a buffet of meatballs, chicken, pasta, deviled eggs, fruit and vegetables. Red, white and blue flags were hung from the roof, tall blue curtains lined the walls, and the floor was carpeted blue and red. Two TV screens proclaimed “F1rst in the nati♥n”, the heart doubling as a map of South Carolina. There was a giant American flag behind the stage.

The president was not present but Congressman James Clyburn, whose endorsement transformed Biden’s fortunes here four years ago, did get him on the phone and put him on loudspeaker, prompting whoops and cheers from the crowd.

Biden said: “I hope you can hear me. So what happened?” Everyone laughed but then there was feedback on the mic.

Harrison replied: “I think a lot of stuff happened here in South Carolina today for you, sir.” Biden asked: “What kind of turnout you got?”

Harrison said: “Mr President, we’re waiting to get the final numbers but from what I’m told by some folks. I think you got it.” More laughter in the room.

None of it said much about Biden’s chances in November. He has already moved into general election mode, unleashing on Trump in a series of speeches. A common sentiment among his supporters in South Carolina was puzzlement – and frustration – that his booming economy is not getting the credit it deserves. Polls show that many voters, including some Black voters, agree with his likely opponent’s slogan: “Better off under Trump.”

There are other headaches too. As record numbers of migrants arrive at the southern border, Biden is criticised as too soft by the right and, as he now threatens draconian measures, too Trumpian by the left. Republicans say Biden botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan and displayed a weakness that emboldened Russia, Iran and Hamas, but progressives and Arab Americans are dismayed by his apparent lack of compassion for thousands of Palestinian dead.

Finally, of course, there is the age question. At 81, Biden is the oldest president in American history. Would-be rivals such as Phillips and Nikki Haley are pushing the cause of a new generation. All these variables could matter in an election likely to be decided by gossamer-thin margins in a handful of swing states.

Visiting his campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday, Biden acknowledged: “It’s the weirdest campaign I’ve ever been engaged in.”

But interviews with voters during primary season in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have offered a reminder of an undeniable fact: Trump remains toxic to huge swaths of the American population. They will do anything to stop him. A criminal conviction between now and November may make them redouble their efforts.

America’s racial divisions will be at the heart of it again. Christale Spain, the first Black woman elected as chair of South Carolina’s Democratic party, recalled in an interview that her state’s primary following the Iowa and New Hampshire contests in past cycles meant “we were correcting the course, correcting the ship every time”.

And in a speech to supporters, Harrison suggested that part of Biden’s legacy is that future Democratic candidates will have to earn, not take for granted, African American support. “We proved that the days of folks parachuting in on election day asking for our votes – those days are over,” he said. “We have an electorate that looks like today’s Democratic party and tomorrow’s America.

Services may be capped due to post-Brexit biometric passport checks, says station owner

Eurostar may cap services due to post-Brexit biometric passport checks, says station owner

Facilities at St Pancras too ‘inadequate’ to process new checks without ‘hour-long queues’ at peak times, says operator HS1

Eurostar could be forced to limit passenger numbers travelling from St Pancras each day under post-Brexit plans to bring in biometric border controls later this year, the owner of the station has warned.

HS1, the owner and operator of the line and stations between London and the Channel tunnel, has raised concerns that planning for new Entry/Exit System (EES) checks at the London rail station are “severely inadequate”, and would lead to long delays and potential capping of services and passenger numbers.

The EES requires citizens from outside the EU or Schengen area to register before entering the zone.

This will replace the stamping of passports for UK travellers, and instead require passengers to enter personal information and details about their trip, as well as submitting fingerprint and facial biometric data.

It has been mooted that the new checks will come into force in October but the implementation has been delayed several times in recent years because the infrastructure was not ready.

HS1 has now raised several concerns to MPs around St Pancras’s ability to accommodate the changes, predicting “unacceptable passenger delays”.

It said only 24 EES kiosks had been allocated by the French government, despite modelling suggesting that nearly 50 would be needed at peak times.

In evidence to the European scrutiny select committee, it wrote: “We are told that the proposed kiosks are ‘optional’ as the process can be delivered at the border, but without about 49 additional kiosks located before the current international zone [at St Pancras] there would be unacceptable passenger delays of many hours and potential capping of services.”

It predicted that with just 24 kiosks, Eurostar would be unable to process all passengers, particularly at the morning peak, and this could “lead to services having to be capped in terms of passenger numbers”.

Eurostar runs at least 16 trains to Paris from St Pancras a day, with each train carrying up to 900 passengers.

HS1 has said space restrictions at the Grade I-listed St Pancras building would make the EES difficult to implement and that a lack of space would mean the queueing process would be “convoluted and staggered”.

In its own evidence to the committee, Eurostar said kiosks would create new queues and a more complex flow management that would represent a “higher risk for the delivery of the timetable and the growth of rail transport from St Pancras”.

It suggested this would add “two to three minutes” to the time taken to process travellers through the border, significantly higher than the 45 seconds it now takes, and could lead to queues of over an hour at peak times.

Any extra kiosks at St Pancras would need to be funded by Eurostar, at about £25,000 a kiosk, with the operator also paying an expected £2m in operation and maintenance costs for all of the kiosks each year.

The Eurostar chief executive, Gwendoline Cazenave, said she hoped the authorities would allow most of the process to happen in advance online, rather than entirely under the supervision of border police.

The concerns over delays at St Pancras, the country’s main Eurostar terminal, mirror those of port operators and local authorities.

Last week, Ashford borough council, responsible for the area around the Port of Dover, told the committee 14-hour queues were “a reasonable worst-case” scenario if the scheme was implemented as planned.

The Port of Dover has also suggested reclaiming land from the sea to allow it more space to process the EES border controls.

In its evidence to the committee, Eurostar called for an “emergency brake mechanism” to be established, which could be triggered by politicians if the EES led to permanently longer queues and traffic.

It also suggested the EU and UK consider bespoke agreements, which would mean UK nationals being exempted from the collection and verification of biometric records.

Last January, Eurostar was forced to cap passenger numbers for several months due to border police being unable to process passports quickly enough.

In some cases up to one-third of the 900 seats were left unsold on services between London, Paris and Brussels, because the company could not deal with post-Brexit rules that required each UK passport to be stamped. The cap was fully lifted in October last year.

Portuguese man who has lived legally in UK since 2001 faces deportation

Portuguese man who has lived legally in UK since 2001 faces deportation

Lawyers and human rights campaigners say case shows Home Office’s increasingly hostile policy towards EU citizens

The Home Office has threatened a Portuguese plumber who has lived legally in the UK for more than 20 years with deportation after he struggled with his application to remain in the country.

According to lawyers and human rights campaigners the case of João Rocha Gonçalves Da Silva, 45, is evidence of the Home Office’s increasingly hostile environment policy regarding EU citizens.

Da Silva’s lawyer has said there is a risk of another Windrush-type scandal affecting vulnerable EU citizens who have applied late for the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) unless the government changes course.

Da Silva arrived in the UK in May 2001 and has worked for his employer Domenic Tomeo, 48, since 2007 in his plumbing business. He has always paid his taxes and has no criminal record.

“Joao is like family to me. He’s a hard worker and 100% trustworthy,” said Tomeo.

A tearful Da Silva told the Guardian: “I’m scared the Home Office will send me back to Portugal. My parents are dead and I have nobody left there now. I consider the UK to be my home and my boss is my family.”

Da Silva tried to apply for EUSS using the Home Office app in 2019 but it was unable to scan his Portuguese ID card. Da Silva applied for a new ID card but had the same problem.

He then tried to apply online but he was unable to do so because he did not have the correct technology. He contacted the Home Office helpline for assistance, but because of a speech impediment and the fact that English is not his first language, the person on the helpline did not understand him.

Da Silva finally found a community organisation to help him submit a late application on 7 November last year, but the Home Office rejected his application just over two weeks later.

In his application Da Silva explained that he had submitted it late because of problems related to his speech impediment. Officials responded that it “is not considered to constitute reasonable grounds for your delay in making your application”.

The Home Office rejection letter contained 11 bullet points of what would now happen to Da Silva including being fined, detained, imprisoned and banned from the UK. There is no right of appeal against the rejection.

His lawyer, Naga Kandiah of MTC Solicitors, has launched a legal challenge against the rejection, arguing that it breaches the EU withdrawal agreement and misapplies the guidance. It calls on the Home Office to accept Da Silva’s application as valid and to introduce a right of appeal for these cases.

“Mr Da Silva is a long term resident of the United Kingdom with a clear entitlement to remain here under the withdrawal agreement,” said Kandiah. “His case shows the risk that EU citizens who have been lawfully resident for many years may suddenly find themselves stripped of their rights overnight. The Home Office needs to carefully consider its approach to avoid another scandal comparable to Windrush.”

The Home Office tightened up the criteria for what officials now consider “reasonable grounds” for late applicants in August 2023.

The most recently available data is to 30 September 2023, almost two months after the changes were brought in on 9 August last year. In August, 9,470 applications were found “invalid” – three times higher than the average of 2,943 a month in previous months. In September, 13,930 applications were found invalid, almost five times higher than the previous average.

Andreea Dumitrache, a spokesperson for the3million, which supports the rights of EU citizens in the UK, said: “The ‘reasonable grounds’ people have to satisfy in order to make a late application are anything but reasonable. We’re seeing marginalised people being punished unjustly, and left to suffer at the hands of the government’s hostile environment. This system creates vulnerability and can push anyone into destitution.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The EU settlement scheme has provided millions of EU citizens and their eligible family members with the immigration status they need to continue living and working in the UK now that we have left the EU.

“The deadline for applying to the scheme passed more than two years ago but, in line with the citizens’ rights agreements, we continue to accept and consider late applications from those with reasonable grounds for their delay in applying.”

£20,000 reward offered for information on Clapham chemical assault suspect

£20,000 reward offered for information on Clapham chemical assault suspect

Police still looking for Abdul Ezedi, who is alleged to have attacked woman and her daughters, and think people are hiding his location

Police have offered a reward of up to £20,000 for anyone who provides information leading to the arrest of a suspected chemical attacker.

An extensive nationwide search operation has failed to locate Abdul Ezedi, who is alleged to have attacked a 31-year-old woman and her two daughters on Wednesday. Detectives have said that anyone found assisting him faces arrest, and believe there are people concealing his location.

Commander Jon Savell also said on Sunday that laboratory analysis showed the liquid used in the attack had been “a very strong concentrated corrosive substance, either liquid sodium hydroxide or liquid sodium carbonate”.

He said comparisons were being carried out with containers seized from Ezedi’s Newcastle home.

The injured woman, who was reportedly in a relationship with Ezedi, is in a critical but stable condition in hospital having suffered what are likely to be life-changing injuries.

Thanking the public for the calls already received, Savell said: “Your help is critical. A reward of up to £20,000 is now available for information leading to his arrest.

“I must warn anyone who is helping Ezedi to evade capture, if you are harbouring or assisting him then you will be arrested.

“Our inquiry line is staffed 24/7 by specialist detectives who are progressing inquiries around the clock.

“If you know where he is or have information that may assist call them now.”

Police released fresh information on Sunday about Ezedi’s last known movements. He was last seen at 9.33pm on Wednesday, when he left Tower Hill underground station.

He had changed trains at Victoria, where he had arrived on the Victoria line at 9.10pm and departed on the eastbound District line at 9.16pm. Officers previously said the last sighting of him had been on a southbound Victoria line train from King’s Cross at 9pm, 95 minutes after the Clapham attack.

The woman’s daughters, aged three and eight, were also injured in the attack, although their injuries are not as serious as first thought. A City worker said the younger child was saved by his partner, a finance worker in her 50s, who ran out of the house when she heard screaming.

He told the Sunday Times the attacker went to throw the three-year-old to the ground again “which is when my partner lunged in and tackled him, grabbing his leg and falling to the ground in the process like a rugby tackle”.

He added: “I have no doubt that if my partner had not jumped in then the child would no longer be with us, and if our other neighbours hadn’t immediately taken the family and washed them down then their injuries would have been far worse.”

The witness said he had arm injuries, and that his partner had suffered burns and might have permanent damage to her eyes.

As the police made a fresh plea for information and announced the reward, Darius Nasimi, of the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, a charity, made a direct appeal to Ezedi to hand himself in.

“I want you to go straight to a police station immediately,” he said. “You have a serious injury that needs to be seen to but, more importantly, you must do the right thing and hand yourself in to police.

“This has gone on for long enough.”

He said Ezedi could contact the charity, call 999 or go to a police station.

The association’s founder, Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi, said it had not had any previous contact with Ezedi or the victims of Wednesday’s attack.

Amid concerns that Ezedi, from Afghanistan, was granted refugee status despite being given a suspended sentence in 2018 after a conviction for sexual assault and exposure, two former Conservative home secretaries from the party’s right wing accused churches of supporting bogus asylum claims.

Ezedi arrived in the UK in a lorry in 2016 and was granted refugee status by 2022 on his third attempt, apparently on the basis that he had converted to Christianity.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Suella Braverman said that during her time as home secretary she “became aware of churches around the country facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims”. Priti Patel told the Telegraph that church leaders had engaged in “political activism”, claiming that religious institutions supported cases of asylum seekers “without merit”.

It is not known which church he attended. The Church of England said there was no record of him on its books and that it was for the Home Office to vet asylum seekers.

Most viewed

  • CNN staff say network’s pro-Israel slant amounts to ‘journalistic malpractice’
  • ‘Making Donald Trump a loser again’: Biden wins big in South Carolina
  • ‘If you scream you are a dead duck’: At 14, my mother left me alone all summer – then the man with a knife found me
  • The Jewish boy who became a Nazi mascot: the extraordinary story of Alex Kurzem
  • E Jean Carroll lawyer says Trump used coded version of C-word against her

£20,000 reward offered for information on Clapham chemical assault suspect

£20,000 reward offered for information on Clapham chemical assault suspect

Police still looking for Abdul Ezedi, who is alleged to have attacked woman and her daughters, and think people are hiding his location

Police have offered a reward of up to £20,000 for anyone who provides information leading to the arrest of a suspected chemical attacker.

An extensive nationwide search operation has failed to locate Abdul Ezedi, who is alleged to have attacked a 31-year-old woman and her two daughters on Wednesday. Detectives have said that anyone found assisting him faces arrest, and believe there are people concealing his location.

Commander Jon Savell also said on Sunday that laboratory analysis showed the liquid used in the attack had been “a very strong concentrated corrosive substance, either liquid sodium hydroxide or liquid sodium carbonate”.

He said comparisons were being carried out with containers seized from Ezedi’s Newcastle home.

The injured woman, who was reportedly in a relationship with Ezedi, is in a critical but stable condition in hospital having suffered what are likely to be life-changing injuries.

Thanking the public for the calls already received, Savell said: “Your help is critical. A reward of up to £20,000 is now available for information leading to his arrest.

“I must warn anyone who is helping Ezedi to evade capture, if you are harbouring or assisting him then you will be arrested.

“Our inquiry line is staffed 24/7 by specialist detectives who are progressing inquiries around the clock.

“If you know where he is or have information that may assist call them now.”

Police released fresh information on Sunday about Ezedi’s last known movements. He was last seen at 9.33pm on Wednesday, when he left Tower Hill underground station.

He had changed trains at Victoria, where he had arrived on the Victoria line at 9.10pm and departed on the eastbound District line at 9.16pm. Officers previously said the last sighting of him had been on a southbound Victoria line train from King’s Cross at 9pm, 95 minutes after the Clapham attack.

The woman’s daughters, aged three and eight, were also injured in the attack, although their injuries are not as serious as first thought. A City worker said the younger child was saved by his partner, a finance worker in her 50s, who ran out of the house when she heard screaming.

He told the Sunday Times the attacker went to throw the three-year-old to the ground again “which is when my partner lunged in and tackled him, grabbing his leg and falling to the ground in the process like a rugby tackle”.

He added: “I have no doubt that if my partner had not jumped in then the child would no longer be with us, and if our other neighbours hadn’t immediately taken the family and washed them down then their injuries would have been far worse.”

The witness said he had arm injuries, and that his partner had suffered burns and might have permanent damage to her eyes.

As the police made a fresh plea for information and announced the reward, Darius Nasimi, of the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, a charity, made a direct appeal to Ezedi to hand himself in.

“I want you to go straight to a police station immediately,” he said. “You have a serious injury that needs to be seen to but, more importantly, you must do the right thing and hand yourself in to police.

“This has gone on for long enough.”

He said Ezedi could contact the charity, call 999 or go to a police station.

The association’s founder, Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi, said it had not had any previous contact with Ezedi or the victims of Wednesday’s attack.

Amid concerns that Ezedi, from Afghanistan, was granted refugee status despite being given a suspended sentence in 2018 after a conviction for sexual assault and exposure, two former Conservative home secretaries from the party’s right wing accused churches of supporting bogus asylum claims.

Ezedi arrived in the UK in a lorry in 2016 and was granted refugee status by 2022 on his third attempt, apparently on the basis that he had converted to Christianity.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Suella Braverman said that during her time as home secretary she “became aware of churches around the country facilitating industrial-scale bogus asylum claims”. Priti Patel told the Telegraph that church leaders had engaged in “political activism”, claiming that religious institutions supported cases of asylum seekers “without merit”.

It is not known which church he attended. The Church of England said there was no record of him on its books and that it was for the Home Office to vet asylum seekers.

Most viewed

  • CNN staff say network’s pro-Israel slant amounts to ‘journalistic malpractice’
  • ‘Making Donald Trump a loser again’: Biden wins big in South Carolina
  • ‘If you scream you are a dead duck’: At 14, my mother left me alone all summer – then the man with a knife found me
  • The Jewish boy who became a Nazi mascot: the extraordinary story of Alex Kurzem
  • E Jean Carroll lawyer says Trump used coded version of C-word against her

Russian bomber pilot shot in city of Engels, Ukraine military intelligence says

It is now 6pm in Kyiv. Here is a summary of the day so far:

  • Russia said 28 people, including one child, have died in Saturday’s shelling of a bakery in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, which is under Russian occupation. A further 10 people were rescued from under the rubble by emergency services, according to officials. Kyiv has not made any statement on the incident.

  • President Volodymyr Zelensky has been visiting Ukrainian troops on the southeastern frontline and handing out medals.

  • Zelensky used the visit to announce a new mayor of the frontline Zaporizhzhia region, Ivan Federov. Federov was once abducted by Russia and was previously mayor of the now temporarily occupied Melitopol since December 2020.

  • More than two dozen people, mostly journalists, were detained on Saturday at a protest in central Moscow where wives and other relatives of Russian servicemen mobilised to fight in Ukraine called for their return, according to a Reuters witness and independent Russian news reports.

  • Belgium is asking G7 countries to consider using €260n in seized Russian assets held by the west as collateral for loans to Ukraine, according to a report in the Financial Times. This would avoid questions around the legality of seizing the assets outright, as has also been considered by Ukraine’s allies, according to the paper.

  • Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko set a world record for the total amount of time spent in space on Sunday. As of 8.30GMT, Kononenko overtook his compatriot Gennady Padalka who logged more than 878 days in orbit, according to Russia’s space corporation, Roscosmos.

  • Russia’s envoy in Seoul was summoned by the South Korean foreign ministry on Saturday to lodge a complaint over Moscow’s criticism of comments by South Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol on North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.

  • The US House of Representatives is expected to vote later this week on a standalone $17.6bn aid package for Israel, pointedly excluding proposed military funding for Ukraine. Republicans have refused to support a $61bn military aid package for Ukraine unless aid was tied to domestic border reforms.

  • Ukraine is close to signing security agreements with France and Germany, with texts being finalised, according to the Ukrainian government.

  • Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, has rowed back from a statement he made on Saturday in which he cast doubt over Ukraine’s ability to retake Crimea.

  • Two Ukrainian drones struck the largest oil refinery in southern Russia on Saturday. Local authorities in Russia said a fire broke out at the Volgograd refinery of the Lukoil company.

President Hage Geingob dies aged 82 after cancer treatment

Hage Geingob, Namibia’s president, dies aged 82 after cancer treatment

First prime minister after independence from South Africa went on to become third president in 2014 and won re-election in 2019

Namibia’s president, Hage Geingob, died early on Sunday in a hospital in the capital, Windhoek, the presidential office said in a statement. He was 82.

First elected president in 2014, Geingob was Namibia’s longest serving prime minister and third president. Namibia is to hold presidential and national assembly elections towards the end of the year.

Geingob, who was serving his second term as president, revealed in January that he was receiving treatment for cancer.

A biopsy after a routine medical check-up in January had revealed “cancerous cells”, Geingob’s office said at the time.

“It is with utmost sadness and regret that I inform you that our beloved Dr Hage G Geingob, the president of the republic of Namibia has passed on today,” said a statement on Sunday from the acting president, Nangolo Mbumba.

“At his side, was his dear wife Madame Monica Geingos and his children.”

In 2013, Geingob underwent brain surgery, and in 2023 he underwent an aortic operation in neighbouring South Africa.

Up until his death, he had been receiving treatment at Lady Pohamba hospital in Windhoek.

“The Namibian nation has lost a distinguished servant of the people, a liberation struggle icon, the chief architect of our constitution and the pillar of the Namibian house,” said Mbumba.

“At this moment of deepest sorrow, I appeal to the nation to remain calm and collected while the Government attends to all necessary state arrangements, preparations and other protocols.”

He said the cabinet would convene immediately to make the necessary state arrangements.

Born in a village in northern Namibia in 1941, Geingob was its first president outside the Ovambo ethnic group, which makes up more than half of the country’s population.

He took up activism against South Africa’s apartheid regime, which at the time ruled over Namibia, from his early schooling years before being driven into exile.

He spent almost three decades in Botswana and the US, leaving the former for the latter in 1964.

While in the US, he remained a vocal advocate for Namibia’s independence, representing the local liberation movement, Swapo, now the ruling party, at the UN and across the Americas.

When Swapo won the first elections in 1990, Geingob was appointed prime minister – a position he held for 12 years before returning to it again in 2012.

In 2014, as the party comfortably won yet another vote, riding on the legacy of its role in the liberation struggle, Geingob became president.

In between top jobs, the composed yet stern-talking leader, who sported wide-rimmed glasses and a tuft of grey hair on his chin, held various ministerial and internal party positions.

His first term as president was tainted by a recession, high unemployment and graft allegations.

In 2019, documents published by WikiLeaks suggested that government officials took bribes from an Icelandic firm in exchange for continued access to Namibia’s fishing grounds.

The “fish rot” scandal threatened Geingob’s prospects of a second term, with the head of state also coming under fire for pumping money into a bloated administration and granting contracts to foreign rather than local companies.

His share of the vote dropped considerably in 2019 from the 2014 height of 87%, but he was still able to comfortably sail to victory with 56% of preferences.

He suffered a couple of health scares in his later years, having undergone brain surgery in 2013 and heart valve surgery in South Africa in June 2023.

An avid football fan, he played as a young man, which earned him the nickname Danger Point.

He was married three times, in 1967, 1993 and again in 2015 and had as many children.

First patients receive experimental messenger RNA cancer therapy

First UK patients receive experimental messenger RNA cancer therapy

The British clinical trial of the revolutionary new mRNA treatment will test its effectiveness in combating a range of cancers

A revolutionary new cancer treatment known as mRNA therapy has been administered to patients at Hammersmith hospital in west London. The trial has been set up to evaluate the therapy’s safety and effectiveness in treating melanoma, lung cancer and other solid tumours.

The new treatment uses genetic material known as messenger RNA – or mRNA – and works by presenting common markers from tumours to the patient’s immune system.

The aim is to help it recognise and fight cancer cells that express those markers.

“New mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies offer an avenue for recruiting the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer,” said Dr David Pinato of Imperial College London, an investigator with the trial’s UK arm.

Pinato said this research was still in its early stages and could take years before becoming available for patients. However, the new trial was laying crucial groundwork that could help develop less toxic and more precise new anti-cancer therapies. “We desperately need these to turn the tide against cancer,” he added.

A number of cancer vaccines have recently entered clinical trials across the globe. These fall into two categories: personalised cancer immunotherapies, which rely on extracting a patient’s own genetic material from their tumours; and therapeutic cancer immunotherapies, such as the mRNA therapy newly launched in London, which are “ready made” and tailored to a particular type of cancer.

The primary aim of the new trial – known as Mobilize – is to discover if this particular type of mRNA therapy is safe and tolerated by patients with lung or skin cancers and can shrink tumours. It will be administered alone in some cases and in combination with the existing cancer drug pembrolizumab in others.

Researchers say that while the experimental therapy is still in the early stages of testing, they hope it may ultimately lead to a new treatment option for difficult-to-treat cancers, should the approach be proven to be safe and effective.

Nearly one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. A range of therapies have been developed to treat patients, including chemotherapy and immune therapies.

However, cancer cells can become resistant to drugs, making tumours more difficult to treat, and scientists are keen to seek new approaches for tackling cancers.

Preclinical testing in both cell and animal models of cancer provided evidence that new mRNA therapy had an effect on the immune system and could be offered to patients in early-phase clinical trials.

Woman rescued from mountain after fall while scattering father’s ashes

Woman rescued from Welsh mountain after fall while scattering father’s ashes

Kitty Harrison tells how she clung to tiny ledge above 90-metre drop for over three hours before being saved

A woman has told of how she had to be rescued by a helicopter and 12-strong mountain rescue team when she slipped while scattering her father’s ashes on one of Wales’s highest mountains.

Kitty Harrison had just given her father, Steve Parry, an emotional send-off on the summit of Tryfan in Snowdonia when she lost her footing. The 32-year-old trainee dental nurse had to cling to a tiny ledge where she balanced precariously above a 91-metre (300ft) drop for more than three hours.

“My foot slipped on the loose shingle and I slipped quite a way and I landed on a tiny ledge,” Harrison told the BBC’s SOS: Extreme Rescues programme. “If I hadn’t gone down that side, I’d have gone straight down the mountain and I’m not sure I’d be here today.”

The experienced climber was a third of the way down from the 917-metre summit, where she had said her final goodbye to her father. Volunteers located her using her mobile phone GPS and spotters from the coastguard helicopter. The rescue took seven hours in total.

“I was in such a state that I couldn’t have got out of there myself,” Harrison said. “They deserve so much credit and praise, they are heroes.”

But due to the rugged topography and wind speed, the helicopter could not get close to Harrison, who was perched in a gully. The only way for rescuers to retrieve her was to go above her and abseil down.

“You go from hope to proper doom, to fear that no one is going to find me,” Harrison said. “As time went on, I was shivering cold and damp and couldn’t move a muscle because of the exercise climbing up the mountain, my legs were tired and shaking. I thought I could fall off here before they find me.”

Robin Woodward of Ogwen mountain rescue, who dropped 30 metres down to rescue Harrison and carry her to safety, said: “She was quite distraught and in quite a scary place for some time.

“This was someone properly worrying for their own life. It wouldn’t have turned out well for her if she’d slipped further down.”

Ogwen mountain rescue is one of the UK’s busiest rescue agencies, working across the mountains, coasts and forests of Eryri and Snowdonia. Harrison’s was one of a record 178 incidents the team dealt with in 2022 – 40% of them on Tryfan.

“When the rescuers said there’s BBC cameras with us, part of me thought I don’t care who’s with you just get me off this mountain,” Harrison told the programme. “The other part thought: ‘That’s typical, I have one bad day and that’s the day the BBC decided to come and see me’.

“I’d also ripped my leggings when I fell and I was like: ‘Please don’t put my bum on the telly’ – my mum would’ve killed me.”

The 12-part series is available on BBC iPlayer and on Mondays at 7pm on BBC One.

‘It’s all a bit marginal’: claims of trade perks don’t add up, say businesses

‘It’s all a bit marginal’: claims of Brexit trade perks don’t add up, say firms

A business department report trumpeting the four-year benefits of leaving the EU does not match the reality faced by companies

On the fourth anniversary of Brexit last Wednesday, the business and trade secretary, Kemi Badenoch, trumpeted its successes. “The British people’s conviction that the UK would excel as masters of our own fate has paid dividends,” she said, launching a report detailing the benefits.

Among the top achievements listed were booming sales of honey to Saudi Arabia, surging pet food exports to India, a rush of UK pork, worth £18m over five years, heading into Mexico’s restaurants and homes, and UK beauty products sales leaping in China, thanks to barriers being smashed.

“My department is leveraging our post-Brexit freedoms to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business,” added Badenoch, seen by many Tory MPs as one of several flexing their muscles for a tilt at the leadership quite soon.

But her triumphalist tone, and many of the assertions in the Department for Business and Trade’s (DBT) Brexit 4th Anniversary document, did not quite ring true with the industries cited.

“I don’t know any of our members who export any great amounts [to Saudi Arabia],” said Paul Barton of the Bee Farmers Association, which represents professional beekeepers in the UK.

“Speaking from the industry, we’ve not had any assistance from the government in exploiting [the Saudi Arabian] market, getting access into that market. So I don’t know where their increases come from.”

He added: “I do remember years ago a chap, I think he was Kuwaiti or Saudi, just knocked on the door and bought a couple of buckets full of honey. I imagine he put it in his hand luggage.”

People in the UK honey business seem focused on other issues. Of all the honey that is consumed in the UK, it is a worry that less than 10% is produced here, Barton said, with cheap Chinese imports making up the stiffest competition.

As far as Brexit is concerned, a big issue is not so much exporting the end product to Saudi or anywhere else but importing queen bees, and on that, Brexit is proving more of a problem than a help.

Queens are reared in southern European countries and brought to the UK so that farmers can begin their hives earlier in the season. But Brexit red tape means the bees are now subject to expensive and disruptive veterinary checks.

As for the government’s claim that “a barrier resolution worth £550m to UK businesses over five years” has helped British beauty companies export to China, the barrier in question had nothing to do with Brexit, according to industry experts. In 2021, China relaxed rules on animal testing, which had been a big red line for UK manufacturers, making it easier to sell into their market.

Millie Kendall, chair of the British Beauty Council, said the loss of trade with the EU outweighed the gains by a long way. “What we really want is to sell to Europe and the US. Economically, we’ve lost £853m in exports to the EU. Sixty-five per cent of our exports go to Europe – £550m sounds nice but it’s not even what we’ve lost.”

One of Kendall’s members sent some products to Spain in August and they have still not arrived. Another, larger company has had to build a £1m warehouse in the EU simply to be able to distribute products. Most smaller companies have just given up, she said.

For larger sectors, Badenoch’s triumphs seemed trivial, experts said. The business secretary’s announcement said officials had unlocked £25m of exports for medicines and £17m of new business in Colombia.

“Together, these amounts represent less than 1% of the total value of the UK pharmaceutical exports of goods in 2022,” said Dr Jennifer Castañeda-Navarrete, a senior policy analyst at Cambridge Industrial Innovation Policy, based at Cambridge University’s Institute for Manufacturing.

In 2022, 46% of pharmaceutical exports went to the EU. She warned that Britain’s previously thriving pharmaceutical sector was now in a trade deficit because we have to import so much more medicine than before – the latest 2022 figures show a $5bn deficit globally, compared with a surplus of $9.7bn in 2010.

A business department spokesperson said: “Many, including the Observer, forecast dire predictions for the UK economy after Brexit. As this document shows, those forecasts have been proven completely false. Of course there have been issues, nobody ever said it will all be perfect.

“However, the report uses official statistics and many of the things people claim are down to Brexit are really down to Covid and supply chain issues. This report is intended as a useful corrective to the consistent doom and gloom about Brexit.”

But the business department’s press release makes no mention of the problems suffered by small UK companies, which have seen their export markets hit and in many cases wiped out. In 2022, researchers at Aston University estimated that 42% of British products previously exported to the EU had disappeared from shops there.

While large companies have been able to spend money on warehouses, vets, distributors, customs clearance, extra shipping costs and all the other red tape that arrived with Brexit, smaller ones have not.

Thomas Sampson, professor of economics at the London School of Economics, said the top 15% of companies had not seen a drop in exports to the EU, but for smaller businesses, there had been a 20% fall.

“It’s great that the DBT are working on removing market access barriers. But it’s all a little bit marginal relative to the seismic shock of leaving the single market and customs union,” Sampson said. “The big gains in the next five years will come by focusing on what’s happening with the EU and trying to simplify our relationship.”

David Henig, director of the UK Trade Policy Project, said that the government’s fourth anniversary of Brexit document was “the usual set of claims that are in various ways slightly distorted”.