The Telegraph 2024-02-11 18:00:25

British aircraft carrier delayed from Nato mission for unknown reasons

HMS Prince of Wales’ departure to lead the biggest Nato exercise since the Cold War has been delayed at the last minute.

The Royal Navy’s £3 billion aircraft carrier should have set sail from Portsmouth on Sunday, in order to lead a Carrier Strike Group of eight ships, but her journey was cancelled for reasons unknown.

It comes after HMS Queen Elizabeth, the British aircraft carrier originally set to join the exercise, which will mark the largest deployment of land forces to Nato since the height of the Cold War in 1984, had to be called off because of an “issue” with its starboard propeller coupling.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, was forced to address MPs’ concerns in the Commons after the issue with the carrier was made public. Mr Shapps insisted that it was “the case that through an abundance of caution on a final inspection” the decision had been taken “for the aircraft carrier not to sail”.

He also said that he had spoken to the First Sea Lord who had made it clear to him that in the event of an “emergency situation”, HMS Queen Elizabeth “quite probably would have sailed”.

Defence sources stressed there was nothing “untoward” about Sunday’s delay and it is understood that the warship is being prepared to sail towards Norway on Monday afternoon instead.

However today’s latest setback comes 18 months after HMS Prince of Wales broke down off the Isle of Wight, when it also suffered a malfunction with a coupling on its starboard propeller.

Since its sister ship’s cancellation was announced, the crew and base workers have been preparing HMS Prince of Wales to take the lead in the exercise.

It comes at a time where concerns have been raised regarding the decision not to send either of the UK’s aircraft carriers to the Red Sea, where dozens of drone and missile attacks have been launched against British and American commercial and naval ships since November last year.

The attacks have caused major delays for global shipping, as tankers and container ships are re-rerouted around Africa to avoid the narrow Bab al-Mandab strait, the entry point to the Red Sea between Yemen and Djibouti.

The Telegraph previously revealed that HMS Queen Elizabeth was not at optimal readiness for deployment because of a Navy staffing shortage, though defence sources insisted earlier this year that both carriers were ready to be deployed to the region if necessary.

On Sunday morning spectators lined the walls of Portsmouth Harbour to watch the vessel’s departure.

However after Ministry of Defence police boats secured the area and the harbour mouth was closed to traffic, as part of normal protocol for the departure of a carrier, the channel was reopened with HMS Prince of Wales having failed to leave the jetty.

It is unclear if the sailing was cancelled before the carrier was set to leave or whether it had made its first movements from the jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base.

One member of the public who had come to wave off the carrier said: “I hope it hasn’t broken down again.”

After about 20 minutes, the hundreds of people gathered to see the ship started to disperse as word spread that it was not leaving.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales is due to sail from Portsmouth soon, subject to suitable tide and weather conditions. Any further updates on sailing times will be published on KHM Portsmouth’s shipping movements later today.”

Former Dutch prime minister and wife die hand-in-hand in double euthanasia

A former Dutch prime minister and his wife have died hand in hand in a rare double euthanasia.

Dries van Agt and his wife, Eugenie, were both 93 and were buried together on Thursday.

“He died hand in hand with his beloved wife Eugenie van Agt-Krekelberg, the support and anchor with whom he was together for more than 70 years and whom he always continued to refer to as ‘my girl’,” The Rights Forum, a human rights charity he founded, said on Friday. The couple met as students at Nijmegen.

The Rights Forum described him as “idiosyncratic” and said that Van Agt and his wife were very ill, but “couldn’t live without each other”.

A Dutchman of Catholic stock, van Agt served as prime minister between 1977 and 1982. He was popular for his humour and for riding with Tour de France cyclists. He was branded a “Jesuit” and a “mystic” by political rivals.

The former Christian Democrat adopted increasingly Left-wing views later in life, opposing his party’s electoral agreement with Gert Wilders’ PVV in 2010.

Van Agt was especially vocal on the Israel-Palestine conflict, writing books on the topic and branding Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, “a war criminal” in 2016.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal in the Netherlands since 2002 under specific conditions.

Double euthanasia is rare but has been on the rise there with 26 in 2020 and 58 in 2022 out of a total of 9,000 euthanasia cases.

Jozef van der Heijden, a former MP from van Agt’s party, and his wife Gonnie died in a double euthanasia in 2016.

Constance de Vries of the Euthanasia Expertise Center told De Volkskraant, a broadsheet newspaper: “Many people dread the prospect of having to continue on their own, especially when they are 80 and no longer so flexible.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters target British Museum over BP partnership

Pro-Palestinian protesters have staged a sit-in demonstration inside the British Museum demanding that BP stops drilling for oil off the Gaza coast.

In footage shared on social media, activists, some of whom were wearing masks and waving Palestinian flags shouted: “Your profits are covered in Palestinian blood”.

The demonstrators claim that BP and other oil and gas companies are fuelling the ongoing conflict in the region by signing a deal with Israel for 12 new oil and gas licences off the West Gaza coast.

In December, the British Museum announced a new 10-year £50 million deal with BP.

The demonstrators were seen sitting on the floor in the atrium of the building holding banners that read: “BP fuels colonial genocide”. 

Energy Embargo for Palestine posted on X, claiming responsibility for the action.

A statement read: “We have just occupied the British Museum alongside comrades from the Free Palestine Coalition.

“We demand that the British Museum end its 10-year partnership with British Petroleum, an energy company profiting from Israel’s colonial genocide.

“On October 30th 2023, one month into the genocidal bombardment of Gaza, Israel granted gas licences off the coast of Gaza to BP and five other companies.

“We will not watch idly as energy companies based in Britain fuel Israel’s colonial genocide.”

The protesters also read the poem ‘If I Must Die’ – written by Dr Refaat Alareer, who was killed alongside his family in an Israeli airstrike in December – aloud to attendees of the demonstration.

Millie Devereux, 30, who was visiting the museum on Sunday, said: “As you go in, you’ve got the central atrium and they were sat right in the middle of the central atrium, just in front of the entrance.

“There were about 50 and some people were sitting down with them as well. It wasn’t causing any disruption at all, it was all very chilled.

“About 10 or 15 police officers were stood in a line when we were there.”

In a statement in December announcing its new deal with BP, the museum said: “A new multi-year partnership with BP will support the future transformation of the museum by contributing £50 million over 10 years.

“The partnership will also help deliver on plans to maintain public access for generations to come. The museum is very grateful for BP’s support at this early stage of the masterplan.”

The museum’s relationship with BP dates back to 1996, and climate campaigners have long criticised the decision to take money from an oil and gas firm.

More than 300 professionals working in the museum sector signed a February 2022 letter urging it to cut ties with BP, and numerous protests have previously been staged inside the museum itself.

Several major cultural sites in the UK, including the National Gallery and National Theatre, have previously ended lucrative sponsorship deals with energy firms amid protests.

The Metropolitan Police said officers attended the protest. They were later filmed escorting the chanting protesters from the building.

A British Museum spokesperson said: “The British Museum respects other people’s right to express their views and allows peaceful protest onsite at the Museum as long as there is no risk to the collection, staff or visitors.”

Climate protesters in Paris last month threw soup over the glass-protected Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

Activists have also targeted a landscape painting by Horatio McCulloch, My Heart’s In The Highlands, in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, as well as a 500-year-old copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Summer in London’s Royal Academy.

First photo of bacteria revealed as Charles Darwin’s vast library put online

The first photograph of bacteria is among the items in the vast library of biologist Charles Darwin now being put online for the first time.

Scientists said the collection – the majority of which was unknown or unpublished until now – shows the “extraordinary extent” of Mr Darwin’s research.

The 300-page catalogue will detail the personal library, which comprises 7,400 titles and 13,000 volumes.

Previous lists had only included 15 per cent of the library, which includes books, pamphlets and journals on subjects such as biology, geology, philosophy, psychology and religion, as well as art, history and travel.

Among the items is also a German periodical containing the first known photograph of bacteria.

Most works are in English, although half were published in other languages, including German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Danish.

The project – The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online – spanned 18 years and its publication coincides with what would have been Mr Darwin’s 215th birthday.

It was led by Dr John van Wyhe at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences.

He said: “This unprecedentedly detailed view of Darwin’s complete library allows one to appreciate more than ever that he was not an isolated figure working alone, but an expert of his time building on the sophisticated science and studies and other knowledge of thousands of people.

“Indeed, the size and range of works in the library makes manifest the extraordinary extent of Darwin’s research into the work of others.”

The project also includes a virtual reconstruction of the library, with 9,300 links to copies of the work available for free.

Mr Darwin died in 1882 and an inventory of his home recorded more than 2,000 bound books.

Researchers used a 426-page, handwritten catalogue from 1875, comparing its abbreviated entries to reveal 440 unknown titles that were originally in the library.

Other sources include lists of pamphlets, his reading notebooks, the diaries of his wife, Emma Darwin, books given to the Cambridge Botany School in 1908 and 30 volumes of the Darwin Correspondence, a collection of letters that the biologist wrote to people across the world.

Michael Sheen promises ‘no hatchet job’ portraying Duke of York

With not one but two television series about his public fall from grace about to air on the world’s biggest streaming services, the Duke of York could be forgiven for feeling more than a little nervous.

The combined audience of the Amazon and Netflix shows, which will both tell the story of his disastrous Newsnight interview about the Epstein scandal, is likely to far surpass those who watched the original, with the court of public opinion still in session.

However, the Duke may breathe a small sign of relief after actor Michael Sheen promised he will not be doing a “hatchet job”.

Sheen said he will play Prince Andrew in A Very Royal Scandal, a three-part series from Amazon Studios, with “humanity”.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Sheen said he had thought hard about why he had agreed to take on the role.

“Inevitably you bring humanity to a character; that’s certainly what I try to do,” he said.

“I don’t want people to say, ‘It was Sheen who got everybody behind Andrew again.’ But I also don’t want to do a hatchet job.”

Asked what he was trying to do with the portrayal, Sheen added: “Well, it is a story about privilege, really. And how easy it is for privilege to exploit.

“We’ve found a way of keeping the ambiguity, because, legally, you can’t show stuff that you cannot prove, but whether guilty or not, his privilege is a major factor in whatever exploitation was going on.

“Beyond the specifics of Andrew and Epstein, no matter who you are, privilege has the potential to exploit someone.

“For Andrew, it’s: ‘This girl is being brought to me and I don’t really care where she comes from, or how old she is, this is just what happens for people like me.’”

A Very Royal Scandal is executive produced by Emily Maitlis, who interviewed the Duke for Newsnight in 2019.

The encounter saw him say he did not regret his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, by then a convicted paedophile who died while in jail before he went on trial for sex trafficking minors because it was “actually very useful”.

It also created a host of lurid headlines about a memorable visit to Pizza Express, his inability to sweat, and his claim that he was “too honourable”.

The Duke of York stepped down from public duty shortly afterwards and has not returned.

The drama stars Ruth Wilson as Maitlis, Joanna Scanlan as Prince Andrew’s private secretary Amanda Thirsk and Alex Jennings as Sir Edward Young, the late Queen’s private secretary.

Netflix is also producing a film, Scoop, about the same moment in royal history, based on the account of Sam McAlister, the producer who helped secure the interview.

In that, Andrew will be played by Rufus Sewell and Maitlis by Gillian Anderson. McAlister is played on screen by Billie Piper with Keeley Hawes as Amanda Thirsk.

McAlister recently told The Telegraph the Netflix film will also not be a hatchet job on the Duke.

“We don’t take a side. We’re not saying, ‘Oh, isn’t he great,’ or, ‘Oh, isn’t he evil’,” she said. “It’s for the viewer to draw their own inferences.”

Philip Martin, the director who also directed the first two series of The Crown, said: “I think lots of people would tie themselves up in knots because they didn’t want to appear to approve of Andrew or to disapprove of him. Rufus [Sewell] wasn’t afraid of that.”

Both shows are in production and are due out later this year.

More than 100 migrants cross Channel in three small boats

A total of 124 migrants on board three small boats made the dangerous crossing of the English Channel on Saturday, the Home Office has confirmed.

The latest arrivals bring the total for the year to 1,506 which is down from the 2,072 by the same point in 2023 but up from 1,339 in 2022. 

The number of people intercepted by Border Force in the second week of February is 171 while the highest number who crossed in a single day in 2024 was 358 on Jan 17.

Apart from the crossings on Saturday and Thursday, small boats had not been intercepted since Jan 31.

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, has made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership as the country approaches a general election.

Mr Sunak’s Safety of Rwanda Bill passed the Commons after the Prime Minister saw off a Tory rebellion which had sought to toughen the legislation.

It cleared its first major hurdle in the House of Lords in January, but faces numerous amendments in the upper chamber and an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords.

Mr Sunak has urged peers not to block “the will of the people” by opposing the Bill.

The Lords begin detailed examination of the Bill in committee stage on Monday.

The asylum scheme comes with a £290 million bill but a series of legal challenges has meant no flights have taken off since it was proposed in 2022.

Under the plan, people who cross the Channel in small boats could be removed to Rwanda rather than being allowed to seek asylum in the UK.