INDEPENDENT 2024-02-21 16:34:09


‘Sleazy Boris Johnson asked me for 1 million dollars to interview him,’ says Tucker Carlson

A war of words has erupted between Boris Johnson and Tucker Carlson over claims the former prime minister was prepared to debate the controversial right-wing journalist for $1million.

Mr Carlson, who this month interviewed Vladimir Putin, said Mr Johnson had demanded $1million for a sitdown interview on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

But Mr Johnson has disputed Mr Carlson’s account as “untrue”, with allies of the ex-PM saying he had offered to take part in the interview for a $1million donation to Ukrainian veterans’ charities.

It is understood Mr Johnson pulled out after the murder of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Mr Carlson has been ridiculed in recent weeks over his support for Putin and the Kremlin, having filmed videos praising Russian shopping trolleys and admiring Moscow’s subway system.

It came after the former Fox News host sat down for a fawning two-hour interview with the authoritarian Russian leader.

Mr Johnson attacked Mr Carlson’s Putin interview, saying it was straight out of “Hitler’s playbook”.

He said the American broadcaster had been the “stooge of the tyrant, the dictaphone to the dictator and a traitor to journalism”.

And, in a column for Mail+, he accused Mr Carlson of betraying “viewers and listeners around the world” for not taking the Russian leader to task for “the torture, the rapes, the blowing up of kindergartens” in Ukraine, “not once did he even try to dam the flow of lies”.

And, speaking to right-wing outlet The Blaze, Mr Carlson hit back at the ex-PM.

“Boris Johnson, who was for a short time the Prime Minister of Great Britain… calls me a tool of the Kremlin or something,” he said.

He added: “I was annoyed. So I put in a request for an interview with Boris Johnson, as I have many times because he’s constantly denouncing me as a tool of the Kremlin. He says no.”

Mr Carlson said after reaching out to “a lot of people who know Boris Johnson” he was told he would do the interview “but it’s going to cost you $1million”.

“I said to the guy… I just interviewed Vladimir Putin. I’m not defending Putin, but Putin didn’t ask for a million dollars. So you’re telling me that Boris Johnson is a lot sleazier than Vladimir Putin?

“Which is true.”

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “This account is untrue.”

Mr Carlson also mocked Mr Johnson, whose real name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

“His name’s not actually Boris… his name is Alex Johnson, he called himself Boris in high school, so the guy who calls himself Boris is accusing me?” he added.

Biggest snake species in the world discovered in Amazon rainforest

Scientists have discovered a previously undocumented species of giant anaconda in the Amazon which they say can grow up to 7.5m and weighing close to 500kg, making it the largest and heaviest snake yet known in the world.

Until now, four species of anacondas were known, with the largest one – the green anaconda – inhabiting tropical parts of South America such as the basins of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Esequibo rivers, as well as some smaller watersheds.

These anacondas, found in the rivers and wetlands of South America, are well known for their lightning speed and ability to squeeze the life out of prey by coiling around, asphyxiating them, and swallowing them whole.

A newly published decades-long study has now found that the green anaconda is genetically two different species.

Researchers working with the indigenous Waorani people captured and studied several specimens of the newly named northern green anaconda (Eunectes akayima) in the Bameno region of Baihuaeri Waorani Territory in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

The species was found during filming for National Geographic’s Disney+ series Pole to Pole with Will Smith.

Scientists documented several anacondas belonging to the new species “lurking in the shallows, lying in wait for prey” as they paddled canoes down the Amazonian river system.

“The size of these magnificent creatures was incredible – one female anaconda we encountered measured an astounding 6.3 metres long,” study co-author Bryan Fry from the University of Queensland said in a statement.“There are anecdotal reports from the Waorani people of other anacondas in the area measuring more than 7.5 metres long and weighing around 500 kilograms,” Dr Fry said.

The new species, described in the journal Diversity, diverged from the previously known southern green anaconda about 10 million years ago, differing genetically from it by 5.5 per cent.

To put this in perspective, humans differ from chimpanzees by only about 2 per cent.

The finding, according to researchers, is pivotal for the conservation of anacondas, which are apex predators and vital to maintaining balance in their ecosystems.

A healthy anaconda population means their ecosystems are vibrant with ample food resources and clean water, while declining numbers of the snake may indicate environmental distress, scientists say.

“So knowing which anaconda species exist, and monitoring their numbers, is crucial,” researchers write in The Conversation.

The anacondas and their habitats are under increasing threat from land fragmentation caused by industrialised agriculture, forest fire, drought, climate change, as well as heavy metal pollution linked to spills from oil extraction activities.

“Of particular urgency is research into how petrochemicals from oil spills are affecting the fertility and reproductive biology of these rare snakes,” Dr Fry said.

How the cult of the supermarket loyalty card robbed us of normal prices

It was Groucho Marx who famously said he wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have him as a member. The same theme was picked up by Woody Allen in the opening monologue of Annie Hall. Clearly, neither of them had ever tried shopping in Tesco without a Clubcard.

This week, the supermarket’s loyalty scheme has come under scrutiny following claims from consumer group Which? that the way prices are displayed for Clubcard members is “at best confusing for shoppers struggling with soaring food inflation and at worst, could be breaking the law”. While the company previously pushed back against the accusations, Tesco has now said it will be overhauling displays so that the price per unit is shown for products under the discounted Clubcard price, the same way it is for the “regular” price.

It’s stirred up a wider conversation about loyalty schemes. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently launched an investigation into whether they make it more difficult for consumers to compare prices across different supermarkets; it’s also looking into whether the schemes penalise those who refuse to join the “club”.

“We have seen an increase in the use of loyalty scheme pricing by supermarkets, which means that price promotions are only available to people who sign up for loyalty cards,” CMA’s Sarah Cardell said. “This raises a number of questions about the impact of loyalty scheme pricing on consumers and competition.”

I’m delighted by this new level of probing, to be honest. I wouldn’t say I’m quite at the level of Marx or Allen when it comes to self-sabotaging self-deprecation, but I’ve always been wary of the supermarket loyalty card cult. Back when I first started shopping as an adult, it seemed nonsensical – I was anything but loyal, hopping from store to store on a whim depending on proximity and how I chose to identify that day. Was I the kind of woman living her best middle-class life and purchasing fresh orange juice with pulp at Sainsbury’s? Or did I feel more drawn towards rummaging around Iceland’s giant freezers for random selections of vol au vents, to be inhaled as a weird late-night snack post-pub? (In truth, I was also far too disorganised to both apply for all the various schemes and to remember the correct card each time I left the house.)

Later down the line, before smartphones and big data ensured companies had access to information on every facet of our lives in microscopic detail, I felt an immutable stubbornness about supermarkets knowing the intimate ins and outs of what I was buying – and deducing what kind of person I was accordingly.

I still remember being told the insane story of Target, a retail chain in the US, knowing a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did based purely on her shopping habits. Her dad angrily contacted the brand, asking why his daughter had been sent money-off coupons and adverts for baby paraphernalia, only to sheepishly admit later that “it turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.” The algorithm knew his child better than he did.

This was a Black Mirror-level of dystopia before Black Mirror even existed. I felt a quiet rebellion stir within. “Absolutely not,” I thought at the time. “You’re not going to know the contents of my womb before I do.”

But these days, opting out doesn’t seem like an option. Whereas loyalty cards were previously “nice-to-haves”, accruing points or garnering shoppers occasional money-off vouchers or special deals, they now appear to be the only way of gaining access to “normal” prices.

Wander around a Tesco and observe the big yellow stickers, which used to indicate that an item was on special offer, and it will slowly dawn on you that the vast majority of these are advertising the special Clubcard prices – all of them significantly cheaper than the regular equivalents. The company hit headlines in 2022 when angry shoppers shared some of the huge price discrepancies on social media.

“Tesco said ‘what cost of living crisis??’,” tweeted @catekitchen, alongside a picture displaying the two prices of Nescafe Azera instant coffee: £2.90 for Clubcard holders, a barely believable £6 for “regular” customers. Others claimed the Clubcard price was merely the normal price for items, whereas the non-Clubcard equivalent had been inflated. “The Tesco Clubcard price thing is a scam,” Twitter user @figureight captioned a photo of Oreos priced at 60p with a Clubcard and £1 without. “These always used to be 60p but now it’s a ‘special offer’.”

Others accused the chain of big tech tactics, “enforcing Clubcards now to get your shopping data” by creating such huge chasms between regular and Clubcard prices.

A Tesco spokesperson said at the time: “Through Clubcard Prices, we’re giving more than 20 million customers access to thousands of exclusive deals on everything from everyday staples like fruit and veg to treats like prosecco and ice cream. It’s easy and free to sign up, and customers can register on the Tesco Grocery & Clubcard app, website or in store to start saving straight away.”

But the message seems clear: non-Clubcard holders are second-class citizens. Fail to join the club, and you will be penalised by paying double.

Tesco isn’t the only offender in terms of creating a two-tier system. In 2023, Sainsbury’s launched its Nectar Prices’ scheme, and now offers discounts of between 15 and 60 per cent on around 6,000 items for Nectar Card holders. Co-op also introduced members-only prices for some of its products last year. Even Pret a Manger has done similar with its £30-a-month subscription, which gets customers 20 per cent off the normal price per item – though the discounted prices look suspiciously akin to how much its products used to cost before the scheme’s existence.

I still haven’t signed up for a Clubcard, nor any other loyalty scheme. But as the cost of living continues to escalate, I may be forced to finally capitulate. I think even Groucho Marx would understand.

Met rapist told victim nobody would believe her because he was a police officer

A former Metropolitan Police officer convicted of multiple counts of rape told one of his victims she wouldn’t be believed because he was in the force.

Cliff Mitchell, 24, of Putney was found guilty of ten counts of rape, three counts of rape of a child under 13, one count of kidnap and breach of a non-molestation order following a trial at Croydon Crown Court on Wednesday, 21 February.

Police said the child rapist commited ‘brazen abuse of power’.

He was a serving PC in Hounslow when a number of the offences were committed.

Mitchell approached one of his victims with a knife in September 2023 and told her to put her arms behind her back, before tying her up with cable ties and putting tape over her mouth.

One of Mitchell’s victims said he forced her and another person to get into his car and only managed to escape by saying she had to get out of the vehicle because she felt sick.

She was later seen running through traffic by members of the public before a passer-by noticed what was going on and managed to get her in her vehicle, his trial was told.

In a 999 call played to the court, the distressed woman told the operator “he’s kidnapped me” and “he’s behind us” as she travelled in the car of the passer-by who had offered help.

Mitchell had previously been subject to a rape investigation in 2017, which had resulted in no further action, the force said.

Following his arrest, the case was reinvestigated which resulted in Mitchell being charged with an additional three counts of rape of a child under 13 and three counts of rape.

These six charges relate to a second victim and occurred between 2014 and 2017, the Met said.

Mitchell, of Wandsworth, south-west London, was a Pc in the Met’s West Area Basic Command Unit.

He was serving in Hounslow when a number of the offences were committed, the Met said.

He was suspended from the force after the allegations came to light and has since been dismissed.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy described Mitchell’s actions as “deplorable”.

He continued: “This is a truly shocking case and I am sickened by Mitchell’s abhorrent behaviour and the pain he has caused the victims, who have shown enormous bravery by coming forward and giving evidence in court.

“It is down to their courage that he has been convicted and faces a significant custodial sentence.

“I would also like to recognise the brave member of the public who came to the aid of one of the victims as she ran from Mitchell’s car.

“Mitchell not only carried out a sustained campaign of abuse against both of his victims, but he told one of them she would never be believed due to the fact he was a police officer.

“This brazen abuse of power makes Mitchell’s actions all the more deplorable.

“I know this is another case which will impact the confidence people have in us.

“We are doing more than we have done in decades to rid the Met of those who corrupt our integrity, including investing millions of pounds into our professional standards team and bringing in additional officers and staff with specialist skills and experience to investigate criminality and misconduct.

“Part of that is dismissing officers who should not be here at the earliest opportunity.

“Mitchell was dismissed from the Met in December 2023 – we did not wait for his conviction today.”

Out-of-control satellite heading for Earth – live

An out-of-control satellite is hurtling towards Earth, nearly three decades after it first launched.

The ERS-2 satellite, which served as an observation platform, is expected to enter the Earth’s atmosphere at some point on Wednesday.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said the risks associated with the two-tonne satellite are “very low”, however there is still a chance that fragments could hit populated areas.

Mirko Albani from ESA’s Earth Observation Ground Segment Department said: “It’s worth highlighting that none of the elements that might re-enter the atmosphere (and reach the surface) are radioactive or toxic.”

The predicted time for the satellite entering the Earth’s atmosphere is currently 3.49pm GMT (10.49 EST) on Wednesday, however a window of uncertainty means it could fall any time between 2pm and 5.30pm.

You can follow all the latest news, updates and developments of the ERS-2 satellite as it heads towards Earth in our live blog below.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

Stop the blame games and put the Post Office scandal victims first

A new drama is being staged at the Westminster Palace of Varieties, which we may call “Ms Badenoch vs the Post Office (Chairman)”. It is likely to play out for a few days at least, and will – for those who follow these political dramas closely – be entertaining.

Kemi Badenoch, the combative business secretary, is never short of self-confidence but some observers wonder if the pretty flat assertions she’s made in the Commons about the former chair of the Post Office, Henry Staunton, might have been a little rash.

She sacked Mr Staunton only three weeks ago, and her decision continues to be controversial, not least so far as Mr Staunton is concerned. He has had a distinguished career in business and does not accept Ms Badenoch’s reasons for dismissing him, nor the way in which it was done. She, in response, accuses him of spreading falsehoods – a serious allegation, made via social media and amplified under parliamentary privilege in the Commons.

What does the SNP’s motion and vote on Gaza mean for Labour?

Since the Hamas atrocities in Israel on 7 October and the war that followed, the Labour Party has found itself in a series of dilemmas about what its policy on the conflict should be. The need to recognise Israel’s right to defend itself and condemn terror has had to be reconciled increasingly uneasily with Israel’s response – one that has led to the charge of genocide being considered at the International Court of Justice.

Some Muslim Labour supporters, including MPs, councillors and candidates, have found Keir Starmer’s past reluctance to call for an immediate ceasefire difficult to accept, and many others, not just on the left, share that view. In trying to root out antisemitism in his party as well as resist Islamophobia, he has found himself losing two of his party’s parliamentary candidates.

Now the SNP, Labour’s main rival north of the border, has tabled another Commons motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, with a debate and vote on Wednesday. Starmer has had to react – and hold his party together…