The Guardian 2024-02-04 22:02:10


US says strikes on Iran-linked militias ‘just the beginning’ of its response

US says strikes on Iran-linked militias just ‘the beginning’ of its response

National security adviser refuses to rule out targeting Iran after 85 sites were attacked in Iraq and Syria

US airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East were just the beginning of a sustained response, the White House national security adviser warned on Sunday, as he refused to rule out strikes on Iranian soil.

Jake Sullivan said the strikes on Friday night against 85 targets in Iraq and Syria, designed as retaliation for the killing of three US soldiers, “were the beginning, not the end of our response, and … there will be more steps, some seen, some perhaps unseen, all in an effort to send a very clear message that when American forces are attacked, when Americans are killed, we will respond and we will respond forcefully”.

Speaking on NBC the day after separate overnight US and UK airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, Sullivan three times rejected a chance to rule out strikes on Iran itself, which would be a major escalation that the US has so far been determined to avoid.

Senior figures in the Iraqi government, many close to Iran, demanded an end to the presence of US troops in their country, claiming Washington was taking the region to “the edge of an abyss”. The US strikes are due to be debated in an emergency session of the UN security council on Monday in New York. US diplomats are expected to say the strikes are in self-defence, and that US troops in Iraq are present at the request of the Iraqi government.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was on his way to the region on Sunday, his fifth trip since Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October. He is to make yet another attempt to secure a hostage release deal and remove the blockages to aid reaching Gaza, as the war approaches its fifth month.

Iran, for its part, warned the US against any move against the Iranian-flagged ship Behshad, which is stationed in the Red Sea and suspected by the US of providing surveillance information to help direct Houthi onshore cruise-missile attacks on commercial shipping in the area.

Iran said the ship was “deployed in the Red Sea in official coordination with the International Maritime Organization to ensure the security of Iranian ships against pirates”. Any attack on the ship would be at the risk of those taking such steps, Tehran said.

The Iranian warning came after a third wave of US and UK strikes hit 36 Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday night, prompting a vow from the Tehran-backed militant group to continue attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

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 Houthis have used to attack Red Sea shipping.

The UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said on Sunday night the strikes were in self-defence and that he would not “hesitate to protect British lives”.

Speaking on a visit to Northern Ireland, he said: “Since the last set of strikes, we have seen the Houthis continue to attack shipping in the Red Sea.

“That is obviously unacceptable. It is illegal. It puts innocent people’s lives at risk and it has economic consequences. It includes attacks, by the way, on British-linked vessels. And that is why we have acted again in self-defence, in a proportionate way, and together with our allies.

“I have been clear that I won’t hesitate to protect British lives, British interests, and our diplomatic efforts are focused on bringing de-escalation and stability back to the region.”

The US and UK previously launched joint strikes on 11 and 22 January.

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.

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 Houthis’ 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 strikes on Yemen are running in parallel to Washington’s continuing retaliation for repeated attacks on US military bases in Iraq, Jordan and Syria. The first wave of attacks on Friday struck targets linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps 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 there.

Sullivan said he was not prepared at this stage to give details on the damage inflicted by the US.

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.

Israeli airstrikesScores killed 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 more than a million people are sheltering

  • Middle East crisis: latest news updates

Israeli airstrikes across Gaza killed scores of people overnight, as fears grow 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.

Amid intensifying divisions in Israel’s government over the 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, travelled to Egypt, telling a news conference that “we stand in favour of a ceasefire, but we also need to prepare for the return of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza”.

Bombardments across the Gaza Strip killed more than 127 people overnight, according to Gaza sources, 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. Strikes also hit Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, where thousands who feared fleeing south have remained.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the army had destroyed 17 of 24 Hamas battalions. “Most of the remaining battalions are in the southern Strip and in Rafah, and we will deal with them,” he said.

A strike on a kindergarten in Rafah that had been converted into a makeshift shelter killed at least two people and a strike on a car killed several more, 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, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, 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 give full support to Israel and was “busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel, 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, 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.”

In remarks to a government meeting later on Sunday, Netanyahu presented himself as the only one capable of managing relations with international allies. “I am not in need of any assistance in navigating our relations with the US and the international community while steadfastly upholding our national interests,” he said.

A draft proposal put forward by the US and 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.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CBS news’ Face the Nation that “the ball is in Hamas’ court at this time”.

The need to get food, medicine, water and shelter into Gaza will be “front and centre” of Blinken’s discussions with Israeli officials during his visit, he said.

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 was focused on the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, a demand Netanyahu has rebuffed.

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.

Estimates were that the 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, an Israeli whose two brothers-in-law are being held hostage in Gaza, said she wanted the Israeli government to prioritise freeing those abduted by Hamas.

Despite growing 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 taken hostage by Hamas in Gaza and freed in 2011 in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

“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,” she said. “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.

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

At least 64 dead as authorities struggle to contain forest fires

At least 64 dead as authorities struggle to contain forest fires in Chile

People told to evacuate homes as quickly possible and curfews declared in most heavily affected cities

Firefighters are wrestling with huge forest fires that broke out in central Chile on Friday. Officials have extended curfews in cities most heavily affected by the blazes and said at least 64 people were killed.

The fires have been burning with the highest intensity around the city of Viña del Mar, where a botanical garden founded in 1931 was destroyed by the flames. At least 1,600 people have been left without homes.

Flames and smoke on the eastern edge of the city have trapped some people in their homes. Officials said 200 people have been reported missing in Viña del Mar and the surrounding area. The city of 300,000 people is a popular beach resort.

Rodrigo Mundaca, the governor of the Valparaíso region, said on Sunday he believed that some of the fires could have been intentionally caused, replicating a theory that had also been mentioned on Saturday by the president, Gabriel Boric.

“These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously,” Mundaca said. “As authorities, we will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible.”

The fires around Viña del Mar began in mountainous forested areas that are hard to reach. But they have moved into densely populated neighbourhoods on the city’s periphery despite efforts by Chilean authorities to slow down the flames.

On Saturday, Boric said unusually high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speeds were making it difficult to control the wildfires in central Chile, which have already burned through 8,000 hectares of forest and urban areas.

Officials are asking people in affected areas to evacuate their homes as quickly as possible, while those further from the fires are being told to stay indoors in order to facilitate the transit of fire engines and ambulances.

Curfews have been declared in Viña del Mar and the neighbouring cities of Quilpué and Villa Alemana, as part of efforts to prevent looting.

The fires broke out during a week of record high temperatures in central Chile. Over the past two months, the El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and high temperatures in western South America that have also increased the risk of forest fires.

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.

Nikki Haley’Trump will spend more time in court than on campaign trail’

Nikki Haley: Trump spends more time ‘ranting’ than fighting for American people

Republican candidate attacks Trump for being more concerned with himself than with country ahead of South Carolina primary

Nikki Haley pressed her case on Sunday to become the Republican presidential nominee by launching a sharp attack on her rival Donald Trump as a candidate who is set to spend more time in court than on the campaign trail this year and is intent on ranting about his own supposed victimhood rather than fighting for the American people.

With less than three weeks to go before the Republican primary in her home state of South Carolina, which many observers see as the former governor and UN ambassador’s last stand, Haley attacked Trump for being more concerned with himself than with the future of the country. She told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning TV show that his multiple court cases, in which he faces 91 charges across four criminal cases, amounted to a “real issue”.

Turning Trump’s own words against him, Haley said that the former president is “going to be spending more time in a courtroom than he’s going to be spending on the campaign trail”. At a time when the US is “in disarray and the world is on fire, we need a president that’s going to give us eight years of focus and discipline, not one that’s going to be sitting there ranting about how he’s a victim.”.

She added that Trump, in recent days, “hasn’t once talked about the American people. And that’s a problem.”

She went on to accuse him of having a “temper tantrum” after she garnered 43% of the vote in New Hampshire last month. “Why? Because he wasn’t controlling the situation.”

Haley’s caustic attack on Trump came as he continues to command a seemingly unassailable lead in the Republican nomination contest. He comfortably won elections in Iowa and New Hampshire, and is now showing a double digit lead in opinion polls in South Carolina, where the Republican primary contest is on 24 February.

In the latest Washington Post-Monmouth University poll of potential Republican primary voters in South Carolina, Trump was 26 points ahead on 58% to Haley’s 32%.

As part of her increasingly direct assault on the standing and reputation of Trump, Haley has also taken to comparing him to Joe Biden. She pointedly predicted that if Trump became the Republican nominee, there would be a woman in the White House.

In that circumstance, “Joe Biden will win and Kamala Harris will become president,” she said.

She said that America deserved better than either Trump or Biden as leader. “Why are we doing this? We are allowing ourselves to have two 80-year-olds, who can’t serve eight years, who are both diminished whether it’s in their character or in their mental capacity.”

For his part, Biden surprised no one by taking more than 95% of the primary vote in South Carolina on Saturday. His two competitors, Dean Phillips, a congressman from Minnesota, and self-help author Marianne Williamson, lagged far behind.

South Carolina has been promoted by the Democratic party as its first official primary election, partly out of recognition that it was the state in which African American voters gifted Biden a huge win in 2020 that lifted him to the Democratic nomination. Jim Clyburn, the Democratic congressman from South Carolina who was seminal in turning that vote to Biden, was asked by CNN whether was retaining the support of Black voters in this election cycle.

“Joe Biden has not lost any support among African Americans. You can go out and talk to 10 people, purposely find one who maybe gives off a different thought, but he has not lost any support among African Americans,” Clyburn said.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic party leader in the House of Representatives, hinted at better things to come for Biden as he struggles to best Trump in many opinion polls.

“It was a tremendous victory in South Carolina, a decisive one and I think it demonstrates that as we enter into the campaign season that the American people are beginning to focus on President Biden’s incredible track record of results,” he said.

Jeffries cited economic and health measures executed by the Biden administration as the US worked its way out from the Covid-19 pandemic, “allowing the American economy to emerge as the most advanced in the world”.

He added: “Yes, more needs to be done in addressing affordability and the inflationary pressures and President Biden has a vision to do that.”

Biden was scheduled to travel to Las Vegas on Sunday for a campaign event in the Historic Westside neighborhood ahead of Nevada’s Democratic primary on Tuesday.

Nevada is a key swing state for Biden to win again this year. He beat Trump by less than three points there in 2020, relying heavily on support from Hispanic and working class union member voters in the Las Vegas area.

Biden needs a good showing in the Democratic primary, while the nominating race for the Republicans in Nevada is a confusing and messy one with two contests two days apart and Trump having a clear advantage over Haley.

Meanwhile, Haley made a cameo appearance on the US comedy staple Saturday Night Live.

Labour plans to extend rights to black, Asian and minority ethnic staff

Labour plans to extend equal pay rights to black, Asian and minority ethnic staff

Exclusive: Radical changes in a draft race equality act would give same protections as women now receive

  • Analysis: Labour’s proposals unlikely to be enough to end race disparities

A Labour government would extend the full right to equal pay that now exists for women to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers for the first time under radical plans for a draft race equality act seen by the Guardian.

The legal right, which would follow a consultation with business groups and unions, would be phased in to give employers time to adapt to paying all their staff fairly, with back pay only available from when the law changes.

The change, which would also cover disabled people, would mean that equal pay claims on the basis of ethnicity and disability were treated the same as those made by women who, under the existing law, have more stringent protections.

Labour would also appoint a Windrush commissioner if it won the general election to monitor the compensation scheme, which has faced criticism over its slow rollout, and has threatened to move it out of the Home Office if it continues to fail.

A commissioner would re-establish the Home Office team that was tasked with transforming the department after the scandal, but was disbanded last year, and act as a voice for the Windrush generation and their families as they pursue justice.

Keir Starmer first promised a race equality act in 2020 and later set up a taskforce chaired by Doreen Lawrence, but the party’s failure to come forward with more detail had prompted concerns over its commitment to tackling structural racism.

Inequality has risen over the last decade, with BAME families disproportionately hit by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, as well as being on the sharp end of cuts to the NHS, education and the criminal justice system.

Anneliese Dodds, the shadow women and equalities secretary, said: “It has never been more important to deliver race equality. Inequality has soared under the Tories and too many black, Asian and ethnic minority families are working harder and harder for less and less. This is holding back their families and holding back the economy.

“We are proud of our achievements in government, from the landmark Equality Act [in 2010] to strengthening protections against discrimination. The next Labour government will go further to ensure no matter where you live in the UK, and whatever your background, you can thrive.”

The proposals, which the party will announce on Monday, would enact protections against “dual discrimination”, where people face prejudice because of a combination of protected characteristics, that were originally in the Equality Act brought in by Harriet Harman in 2010.

A black woman who faces sexism and racism or a Muslim woman abused for wearing a headscarf, for example, would be able to bring one discrimination claim, rather than one for each protected characteristic.

Labour said this would have broader benefits for different groups of people, including women experiencing discrimination during the menopause, as well as easing backlogs in the tribunals system.

The new act would also place a duty on public services – including the NHS, police, schools and councils – to collect data and report on staffing, pay and, where relevant, outcomes, by ethnicity.

Measures already announced, but which would be covered by the act, include mandating ethnicity pay gap reporting, ensuring police officers and staff undertake anti-racism training, and reviewing the school curriculum to ensure it is diverse.

Labour has also said it would expand access to mental health support, bring in a new target to close maternal health gaps experienced by black and Asian women and update clinical training to better serve the diverse patient population.

Party sources said the new act would help deliver on its core mission to unlock economic growth through better jobs and more secure employment for BAME people, which they claimed could be worth more than £26bn a year in increased salaries.

Dr Shabna Begum, the interim chief executive of the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, said: “Labour’s race equality act signals a much-needed pivot from the years of regressive and harmful policies we have seen under successive governments.

“We welcome many of the commitments including those that address discrimination in the workplace, the lack of representation in our school curricula, as well as the promise to enact the principle of dual discrimination – finally recognising the interactive ways that discrimination can operate.

“However, the plans fall short of addressing the formidable scale of inequalities that shape the experiences and opportunities of people of colour.

“Committing to address structural racial inequality needs to understand that racism doesn’t simply arise when the system fails – but that racism is actually sewn into the very fabric of the system itself.

“Labour must use the race equality act as a platform to commit to an ambitious, cross-governmental approach supported with sustained investment addressing the unacceptable – and in some cases worsening – disparities in health, housing, wealth and policing, faced by so many communities of colour.”

AnalysisProposals unlikely to be enough to end race disparities

Labour’s proposals unlikely to be enough to end race disparities

Pippa Crerar Political editor

Voters will welcome announcement of what party’s reforms will look like but structural inequalities run deep

  • Labour plans to extend equal pay rights

While Britain was still struggling through the Covid pandemic in autumn 2020, Keir Starmer announced that Labour would bring in a race relations act if it came to power.

His promise was driven by concern about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus crisis on minority ethnic communities, confirmed in a report from Doreen Lawrence, the Labour peer and mother of the murdered black teenager Stephen.

“If no long-term action is taken to tackle structural inequalities, we will keep seeing this pattern of injustice occur beyond the pandemic,” she said. “We have heard enough talk from the government. It is now time to act.”

Lady Lawrence was asked by Labour to lead a race equality taskforce to draw up specific policies to tackle those structural inequalities that exist throughout society: at work and in the economy, the health service, the criminal justice system and in housing.

The statistics are depressingly familiar, yet still shocking. Analysis by the TUC reveals the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers in insecure work more than doubled from 2011 to 2022, from 360,200 to 836,300.

The cost of living crisis has hit people of colour, already disproportionately poorer, hardest: they are 2.5 times more likely to be in poverty than white people, according to the Runnymede Trust.

Black people are almost three times as likely as white people to live in social housing, the census shows, with minority ethnic households more likely to experience homelessness or live in poor quality, unsuitable or overcrowded homes.

So Starmer’s pledge was welcomed by BAME community leaders and race equality experts, as well as his own MPs. But the years passed, and despite attempts to reassure that the party was still committed to one, there was no draft law, and concerns began to mount.

At the same time, Starmer has faced a reckoning over his handling of the Forde report, and the scrapping of democratic structures for BAME Labour members, while the party has been criticised for its failure to select more minority ethnic candidates.

Labour’s cautious approach to policy ahead of the election – including over its green investment plan and, this weekend, reform of social care and the House of Lords – had worried some that it could also hold back on other big reforms.

So the confirmation of what a race equality act would look like under a Labour government, after years of regressive and harmful policies from successive governments, will no doubt be welcomed.

Yet it is unlikely to be enough, with experts such as the Runnymede Trust arguing that it falls short of addressing the formidable scale of inequalities that people of colour face.

“Committing to address structural racial inequality needs to understand that racism doesn’t simply arise when the system fails – but that racism is actually sewn into the very fabric of the system itself,” the trust said.

That is the real challenge for a future Labour government: can it bring together an ambitious, cross-governmental approach backed up with sustained investment to address the unacceptable, and in some cases worsening, disparities that exist?

And not just because it is good for economic growth – a key tenet of its argument for bringing in a new race relations act – but because it is the right thing to do.

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 about 14 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.

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 about 14 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.

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

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

Woman left injured by Abdul Ezedi came to UK for safety as asylum seeker from Afghanistan, Guardian learns

The woman left seriously injured in the Clapham chemical attack came to Britain for safety as an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, the Guardian has learned, as police offered a £20,000 reward for the capture of the suspected assailant.

Abdul Ezedi remains the target of a huge manhunt after Wednesday’s attack with the corrosive substance, after which he went on the run.

Ezedi, also from Afghanistan, was granted asylum despite a previous conviction for sex offences committed in the UK in 2018 and while being on the sex offender register.

Former home secretaries, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, have tried to use Ezedi’s controversial asylum status to call for a crackdown on asylum seekers.

However, multiple sources have said the woman, 31, who is still seriously ill in hospital, herself came to the UK seeking asylum status – which is believed to have been granted after it was accepted she had a genuine fear of persecution in Afghanistan.

They add it is believed she arrived in the UK after Ezedi, who was smuggled into the country in a lorry in 2016.

Detectives have said that anyone found assisting him while he is on the run faces arrest, and believe there are people concealing his location.

Commander Jon Savell 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 previously known to Ezedi, is in a critical but stable condition in hospital having suffered what are likely to be life-changing injuries.

Some sources say the woman and suspect had been in some sort of relationship, but the two children with her at the time of the attack, aged eight and three, are not his.

Azedi said he was of Hazara ethnicity as he tried to win asylum, which was eventually granted on his third attempt by an appeals tribunal after a priest gave evidence he was regularly attending church and his claim to be a Christian was genuine.

Two of the sources added that Afghanistan was assessed as being so dangerous that once Ezedi had got into the UK, he could not be deported even if all his appeals had failed.

Police have had no confirmed sightings of Ezedi since Wednesday evening, despite the large manhunt and highly publicised appeals for information on his whereabouts.

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 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”.

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.”

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

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.

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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.

Campaigners criticise plan to take apart and rebuild Curie lab in Paris

Campaigners criticise ‘absurd’ plan to take apart and rebuild Curie lab in Paris

French government to hear last-ditch appeal this week over new culture minister’s ‘compromise’ for Pavillon des Sources

Campaigners battling to save part of Marie Curie’s Paris laboratory have said the decision to take it apart brick by brick and rebuild it is “totally absurd”.

They warned that once the Pavillon des Sources is dismantled under the “compromise” plan announced by the new culture minister last week, it is unlikely to be restored.

They will make a last-ditch appeal on Monday to the French government and the president, Emmanuel Macron, to preserve the pavilion, one of the few remaining buildings that was used by the Nobel prize-winning scientist.

Stéphane Bern, appointed by Macron as France’s heritage tsar, said the decision made a “complete mockery” of Curie’s work and memory. “We say we want to defend the legacy of women and women in science and it’s just a lot of words. Here we have a chance to act to defend Marie Curie’s legacy,” he said.

“I have not stopped alerting the president to this. He said he would look at the file and all he’s done is ask the minister to convince me that this plan is a good one. Well, I am not convinced.”

The previous culture minister, Rima Abdul Malak, intervened a month ago to stop the destruction of the pavilion at 26 Rue d’Ulm in the city’s Latin Quarter, one of three buildings that made up Curie’s laboratory.

At the time, the conservative politician Rachida Dati vehemently opposed the demolition. Dati, who aims to become Paris mayor in 2026, had positioned herself against city hall – run by her bitter rival, Anne Hidalgo – which approved the plan last year. However, after her surprise appointment to replace Abdul Malak, Dati announced that the building would be torn down and rebuilt 20 metres from its original position.

“Everyone’s a winner in this story,” Dati said.

Baptiste Gianeselli, who has led the campaign to save the pavilion, accused Dati of playing politics. “Before Rachida Dati was minister, she was completely against the demolition of the pavilion and used this to hit at Anne Hidalgo. I thought we could count on her to save it,” Gianeselli said.

“She’s two minutes at the culture ministry and announces this. It is the worst of decisions. In the last 30 years, there is not one example of a [historic] building being taken apart and rebuilt. Even if it’s possible, it makes no sense.

“The building’s value is not the bricks, but its history and memory. It’s not a Lego construction you can take apart and put back together again.”

Didier Rykner, the founder and editor of the online magazine La Tribune de l’Art, who campaigns for the preservation of France’s historic buildings and monuments, said Dati’s idea was “totally absurd”.

“When this first came up, Rachida Dati told me that if she had the power, she would save the Pavillon des Sources. Well, now she has the power, but this makes no sense. It is ridiculous. For 30 years we have been told [historic] buildings will be taken down and rebuilt and it’s never happened.”

He cited the Lustucru factory in the southern city of Arles, designed and built by the Eiffel company, as an example of many broken rebuilding promises. The unique 20-metre-high metal structure, constructed in 1906, was taken apart in 2018 to make way for a shopping centre. Six years on, it remains in pieces.

The Curie Institute said the pavilion was used to store rubbish and was “polluted and unusable”. It wants to construct a five-storey research centre on the site. An art deco building from the 1930s is also to be destroyed. The institute has welcomed Dati’s decision, which will add millions to the cost of the project and cause delays.

Bern and Gianeselli are due to meet government representatives on Monday to urge a rethink of the laboratory plan.

“We all know it’s just an excuse to demolish it. It will never be rebuilt,” Gianeselli said. “Marie Curie is a world icon. She deserves better than this.”

‘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”.

Cosmonaut sets world record for most time spent in space

Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko sets world record for most time spent in space

Russian surpasses compatriot Gennady Padalka after logging more than 878 days at the international space station

A Russian cosmonaut has set a world record for the most time spent in space on Sunday, after logging more than 878 days or nearly two-and-a-half years.

As of 0830 GMT, Oleg Kononenko overtook the record set by his compatriot Gennady Padalka, according to Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos. Padalka logged 878 days, 11 hours, 29 minutes and 48 seconds during five space flights before retiring in 2017.

Kononenko, 59, broke the record while orbiting 263 miles (423km) from Earth during his fifth space flight. “I fly into space to do my favourite thing, not to set records,” he told the state news agency Tass in an interview from the international space station (ISS).

“I am proud of all my achievements, but I am most proud that the record for the total duration of human stay in space is still held by a Russian cosmonaut,” Kononenko, who is the commander of Roscosmos, said.

His current space flight is scheduled to end in late September, by which time he will have logged 1,110 days in space.

He started his space career as an engineer, according to the European Space Agency, and began training as a cosmonaut at the age of 34 after joining the group selected for the ISS programme. His first space flight took place soon after, in April 2008, and lasted 200 days.

Kononenko told Tass that video calls and messaging allowed him to keep in touch, but that it was on coming back to Earth that he realised how much of life he had missed out on.

“It is only upon returning home that the realisation comes that for hundreds of days in my absence the children have been growing up without father,” he said. “No one will return this time to me.”

He also said he worked out regularly in an effort to counter the physical effects of “insidious” weightlessness. “I do not feel deprived or isolated,” he said.

His five space flights have spanned 16 years, during which time advances in technology had made preparing for each flight more difficult, he said. “The profession of a cosmonaut is becoming more complicated. The systems and experiments are becoming more complicated. I repeat, the preparation has not become easier.”

The ISS is one of the few international projects in which Washington and Moscow continue to cooperate closely since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Roscosmos said in December that a cross-flight programme with Nasa had been extended until 2025.

The reliability of Russia’s space programme, historically the pride of the country, has come into question in recent years. The Russian segment of the ISS sprung its third coolant leak in less than a year in October, hinting at what analysts have described as a beleaguered space sector that is struggling to turn itself around after years of funding shortages, failures and corruption scandals.

Reuters contributed to this report