INDEPENDENT 2024-02-29 10:34:02


Sunak: Country descending into ‘mob rule’ – police must act

Rishi Sunak has claimed the UK is descending into “mob rule” as he warned police must take urgent action or risk losing public confidence.

The prime minister demanded a crackdown on protests as he pledged to do “whatever it requires to protect our democracy”.

During an extraordinary meeting in Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon he told police chiefs they had to demonstrate they would “use the powers you already have”, saying it was “vital for maintaining public confidence in the police”.

In a startling assessment of the state of modern Britain, he added: “There is a growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule. And we’ve got to collectively, all of us, change that urgently.”

He said that he would “do whatever it requires to protect our democracy and our values that we all hold dear”.

He hailed a new policing protocol, which “provides clarity that protests at elected representatives’ homes should be treated as intimidatory”.

The protocol also warns protests at democratic venues, like parliament, or political events should not be allowed to “cause alarm, harassment or distress” to attendees.

Forces will provide additional patrols in communities at risk of “potential flashpoints”.

Earlier, he rejected calls that fearful MPs should work from home as he sought to defend security measures which critics say fail to tackle the root cause of attacks on politicians.

No 10 said the prime minister believed the WFH idea was “appalling” and “we shouldn’t be closing down parliament” because of extremists.

Tensions have been heightened by protests over the war in Gaza, as MPs come under intense pressure to back calls for a ceasefire.

Mr Sunak has previously condemned an “aggressive mob” of pro-Gaza protesters at the home of Tory MP Tobias Ellwood.

There were also angry and chaotic scenes at Westminster last week after the Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was accused of ripping up the parliamentary rule book over a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, because of concerns about “threats” against MPs.

But the government is facing a backlash from one of its own ministers, who said a new £31m security package for MPs was “missing the point”.

Justice minister Mike Freer, who has started to wear a stab vest at public events and will stand down at the next election because of threats to his safety, said the measures would “not actually [go] to the root cause” of why people felt emboldened to target MPs.

He also warned a “ring of steel” around politicians would fundamentally alter democracy.

The security package came as:

The new funding, announced by home secretary James Cleverly, followed “frightening” threats to MPs and their families.

Under the plans, MPs will be given greater police protection, while those at higher risk could have private security guards. The level of protection will be decided by the police and could apply to controversial figures like George Galloway, if he is elected in this week’s Rochdale by-election.

All elected representatives and candidates will also have a dedicated police contact to liaise with on security matters.

But Mr Freer, who represents a predominantly Jewish constituency in Finchley and Golders Green in north London, said the extra funding did not address the underlying problem.

“I kind of think it’s missing the point,” he told Times Radio. “More security is always welcome, but that’s only dealing with the symptom.

“It’s not actually going to the root cause. Why do people now feel emboldened to attack members of parliament, to demonstrate outside their homes where they’re intimidating their family? Not necessarily the MP, but their family.

“Why should their partners and their children have to put up with being frightened in their own home?

“So, security is welcome. But frankly, unless you get to the root cause, then you’re just going to have a ring of steel around MPs. And our whole style of democracy changes.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government “rightly needs to ensure that democracy is protected and that no one faces security threats either for themselves or their family because of the job they do or their democratic role”.

Just hours after the new measures were unveiled, Just Stop Oil, which has defended protests at the homes of MPs, tweeted Sir Keir “we’ll be with you in a few hours. Put the kettle on for us”.

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian protesters vowed to continue marches despite calls for a halt. Mr Cleverly told marchers they had made their “point”. But Chris Nineham, vice chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, accused ministers of creating a “social panic” around pro-Palestinian protests.

Labour MP Harriet Harman has suggested that MPs should be able to speak and vote from their constituencies because of concerns about security at Westminster.

Top Tory calls for investigation into ‘sexual blackmail allegation’ by party donor against ex-MP

A Tory tycoon in a “cash for access” controversy accused a female ex-MP of attempted “sexual blackmail,” according to a former Cabinet minister.

Conservative MP Sir David Davis called for a police investigation into businessman and Tory donor Mohamed Amersi for the possible “criminal harassment” of former Bristol MP Charlotte Leslie.

Using parliamentary legal protection, Sir David also accused Mr Amersi of a “misogynistic hate campaign” against Ms Leslie on social media.

He also claimed Mr Amersi had tried to “intimidate” former Labour minister Dame Margaret Hodge.

In a wide-ranging attack, Sir David said multi-millionaire Mr Amersi was a “shady fixer for corrupt politicians” who had made his fortune by “facilitating corrupt deals for dictatorships and autocracies” including Russia.

And he claimed Mr Amersi’s libel lawyers, Carter Ruck, had committed “perjury” by “lying” about how much Mr Amersi had spent on his failed lawsuit against Ms Leslie.

Mr Amersi responded on Tuesday night by calling Sir David a “biased bully, coward and liar” and denied the allegations in their entirety. He also challenged Sir David to repeat them outside the Commons debating chamber, where he would not have legal immunity.

Nigel Tait, managing partner of Carter Ruck rejected Sir David’s claim. Mr Tait told The Independent: “The judge found that Mr Amersi had misremembered his costs. There was no suggestion of any perjury.”

Sir David’s comments come after a High Court judge threw out a libel action by Mr Amersi against former Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie last year.

Mr Amersi, who along with his Russian partner Nadejda Roditcheva has given £750,000 to the Tories and backed Boris Johnson’s leadership, claimed he had been defamed by Ms Leslie in a secret dossier.

They fell out in 2020 after she claimed he tried to use his wealth to take over a Tory group run by her which aims to boost UK-Middle East relations.

He also donated more than £1m to King Charles’ favourite charities, leading to him dining with the then-heir to the throne.

Philanthropist Mr Amersi defended his conduct as “access capitalism” and has always vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Sir David castigated Mr Amersi for the way he had fought his battle with Ms Leslie.

Mr Amersi’s “campaign against her went far beyond the (legal) case itself – he set out to destroy her reputation,” he said.

“There were lies that she sexually blackmailed men, the collection of intimate details about her family, physical intimidation.

“And an obsessive, misogynistic and ultimately defamatory hate campaign on social media by Amersi himself.”

Sir David said Mr Amersi “is deeply immersed in a twilight world of backroom bribes”.

“This is why he was so desperate to suppress Ms Leslie’s claims,” he added. “He did not want to be exposed and have his carefully crafted public image – that of a savvy entrepreneur and generous philanthropist – shredded.

“Amersi clearly hoped he could break Ms Leslie’s resolve and force her to concede through bullying, intimidation, and the threat of financial ruin. He failed.

“He put Charlotte Leslie through years of torture in what may have amounted to criminal harassment.”

Sir David said Mr Amersi, 63, had earned £7 million a year for a Swedish-based telecoms firm and had “aided and enriched regimes that resembled a shopping list of dictatorships and autocracies”.

They included Russia and post Soviet states like Uzbekistan.

“Amersi facilitated corrupt deals. The repeat nature of the murky practices involved is striking,” said Sir David.

Mr Amersi had “attempted to buy his way into the British establishment – and worryingly he has had some success. He has managed to recast himself as a philanthropist and benefactor, rather than the shady political fixer for corrupt politicians that he really is”.

He would do “whatever he can to get influence.. and clearly, the British establishment is vulnerable.

“There is a green-eyed gullibility at the top of society, with institutions happy to hoover up cash without asking questions.”

Sir David’s dramatic Commons intervention followed a separate clash between Mr Amersi and Dame Margaret Hodge.

The BBC reported on Tuesday that she has written to the Metropolitan Police and Electoral Commission calling on them to investigate whether the Conservative Party had broken election rules by taking a £200,000 donation from his partner, Ms Roditcheva.

Dame Margaret said fresh details of the donation shortly before the 2017 election had emerged in a new book, ‘Cuckooland,’ by investigative journalist Tom Burgis.

She said Mr Amersi had offered to make a donation and had been advised by Tory HQ that the money should come from his partner’s account because he was not on the electoral register.

Dame Margaret told BBC Newsnight: “The Conservative Party may have knowingly taken a donation from a non permissible person.

“Mr Amersi at the time was not on the electoral register. And if you aren’t on the electoral register you aren’t allowed to give donations. If his money was transferred to a third party that is also non permissible. That is a very serious matter.”

The Conservatives said they only accept money from permissible sources.

Mr Amersi said no rules had been broken and that the money came from his partner’s account. He accused Dame Margaret of a “politically motivated vendetta” against him.

When Sir David criticised Mr Amersi in parliament in the past, the businessman responded by calling the Tory grandee a “liar, coward and bully”.

In the High Court judgment last year Mr Justice Nicklin threw out Mr Amersi’s libel case against Ms Leslie, saying he had “failed to prove serious harm” had been inflicted on him by her. It was hailed as a “landmark victory” by press freedom campaigners.

She sent a dossier which raised questions about Mr Amersi’s past business links Russia to a handful of senior Tories and figures in the intelligence services. Mr Amersi claimed her “dodgy dossier” contained false information which damaged his reputation.

After Sir David’s attack in the Commons, Mr Amersi said: “David Davis made another misinformed rant against me in favour of Leslie and to promote Burgis’s book.

“For the record I repeat what I had previously said: By using parliamentary privilege, Davis has bullied and lied about the true facts. If he has any substantive proof about what he alleges, please say it to me outside. Do not be a coward.

“Every deal undertaken had magic circle advisors and blue chip banks. I deny in the strongest terms any and all allegations.

“All the deals have been the subject of review by various enforcement agencies around the world and no wrongdoing on my part was established.”

Wonka actor said parents ‘rioted’ as Chocolate Experience became chaos

An actor playing one of the doomed Willy Wonkas has opened up about dealing with police, crying children and rioting parents at the immersive theatre event of the century – Willy’s Chocolate Experience – a place he says “where dreams go to die”.

Lured in by the promise of £500, Michael Archibald, 18, turned up to his first ever acting gig expecting a professional role in a theatre type-play but even the traumatic experience couldn’t shatter his dreams of treading the boards on the West End as the cheeky chocolatier.

He gave The Independent a virtual backstage tour of the tragic event with open-plan changing rooms, paltry jelly bean dispensary and tragic AI poster of a gingerbread house barely covering a third of the wall.

One parent complained of arriving to find a “disorganised mini-maze of randomly placed oversized props, a lacklustre candy station that dispersed one jelly bean per child, and a terrifying chrome-masked character that scared many of the kids to tears”.

But days after going viral Mr Archibald and the other staff, some who spent three days setting up the so-called “chocolate factory”, say they are still waiting for their first paycheck from organiser House of Illuminati’s Billy Coull.

He told The Independent: “Everything was described as a world of wonders and imagination, an immersive experience.

“But once I walked in to see that everything had still been getting set up, I felt like things were going to take a turn for the worst from then on.

“There was a lot of dancing about with our contracts and mentions of pay felt flimsy.

“I was asking the staff members about how long they had been working there with most telling me they had just barely been hired on the day and were being worked to the bone. They had worked 12-hour shifts for three days straight with no breaks and equally no pay from Billy Coull.

“I didn’t have time to memorise the scripts for context, as the actors and I had only been given our scripts at 6pm on Friday.”

Did you attend the event? If so email barney.davis.ind@independent.co.uk

He added: “By Saturday I was in absolute tatters.

Arriving at 10am, he found queues of frustrated families waiting 40 minutes over their allotted time slots.

He said: “We were essentially told to scrap our scripts which wasn’t a complete loss as it all had been AI generated.

“But it was an incredibly huge waste of time.

“I scrapped my role as a Wonka after doing a full run-through in the morning and decided to go around asking some of the parents questions on what was going on, where they had come from places like Inverness and Dundee?

“My overriding feeling to it all was this is where dreams went to die.”

By lunchtime angry parents trying to get in called the police, who arrived and quizzed the teenager.

He added: “I gave as much info to them as I could. The police took note of what I was saying and said it was good information.

“The man I spoke to took down all of the things I was talking about and said to see whether we’d get paid or not. We clearly haven’t!”

He added: “It was almost comical how everyone started rioting, throwing things about and really kicking up a fuss.

“One thing to take away from this event is you don’t mess with the Scots.”

Willy’s Chocolate Experience organiser Billy Coull apologised for his “vision of the artistic rendition of a well-known book that didn’t come to fruition” and offered 850 people their money back before closing the Glasgow experience on Saturday.

Mr Archibald hit back: “I think regardless of what they’ve been saying, this was quite the planned-out con.

“It’s really interesting to see how they’ve utilised AI so much for script writing and their website and feels like an insult to artists and creative alike, especially considering their budget. It wouldn’t have been that hard to hire some real artists.”

On his future as an actor: “What’s next? Who knows! Hopefully not another Wonkagate though. I hope it doesn’t put other actors off of this for the future, instead it should show that regardless of how terrible the event was, we had some really incredible people trying their best to bring smiles onto the young people’s faces.

“I’d love to work a lot more in the entertainment industry, if I was able to influence people and inspire others then that’s where I’d want to be.

“I’d adore to be an actor however I’m not sure how that would end up considering this was supposed to be my first gig. But I’m not worried regardless, since things normally work out well when you’ve got your heart in it.”

Asked if he planned to reunite the actors and bring the chaotic immersive theatre event of the century so far to the West End, he replied: “Now that would be far too good. The people of London would go wild for it.”

Christian Horner breaks silence after being cleared by Red Bull

Christian Horner admits he is “pleased” the investigation into alleged “inappropriate behaviour” is over as the Red Bull F1 boss returned to the paddock in Bahrain on Thursday.

The complaint from a female colleague, first publicised on February 5, alleged “inappropriate, controlling behaviour” against the Red Bull team principal. Horner strongly denied the allegations, both initially and in public at Red Bull’s 2024 F1 car launch in Milton Keynes as well as last week at pre-season testing.

But after an investigation was conducted and completed by an external lawyer, the world champions’ parent company Red Bull GmbH confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the “grievance” against Horner has been dismissed. The female colleague does, however, have the right to an appeal.

“I’m just pleased that the process is over, I obviously can’t comment about it,” Horner told Sky Sports News on Thursday, ahead of practice at the season-opening race.

“[I’m] here and very much focused now on the grand prix, the season ahead and trying to defend both of our titles.

“I can’t give you any further comment, the process has been conducted and concluded. I’m pleased to be here in Bahrain and focused on the season ahead.

“Within the team it’s [unity has] never been stronger.”

Horner arrived in Bahrain on Wednesday night and will be in position for the first race of the 2024 F1 season this weekend.

A Red Bull GmbH spokesperson said on Wednesday: “The independent investigation into the allegations made against Mr Horner is complete, and Red Bull can confirm that the grievance has been dismissed.

“The complainant has a right of appeal. Red Bull is confident that the investigation has been fair, rigorous and impartial.

“The investigation report is confidential and contains the private information of the parties and third parties who assisted in the investigation, and therefore we will not be commenting further out of respect for all concerned.

“Red Bull will continue striving to meet the highest workplace standards.”

The Red Bull F1 chief, 50, is married to Spice Girl member Geri Horner and is the longest-serving team principal on the F1 grid, having been at the helm since the team’s inception in 2005.

Sky F1 pundit Martin Brundle insisted the statement, from Red Bull HQ in Salzburg, “drew a firm line” under the matter.

Horner, who back in 2021 signed a contract extension at Red Bull until 2026, was made a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list for services to motorsport, having previously received an OBE in 2013.

He has been in charge of Red Bull for six constructors’ championship victories and seven drivers’ championship triumphs – three for Max Verstappen and four for Sebastian Vettel.

Red Bull won 21 out of 22 races in 2023 in their most successful year so far in Formula 1, with Verstappen storming to his third-straight championship.

Yet the investigation into Horner’s conduct has cast a dark cloud over the team’s preparations for the 2024 season, where they and Verstappen will be favourites for title glory once again.

The first race of the 2024 F1 season – featuring a record 24 races – is this Saturday, 2 March, in Bahrain.

Ray Winstone on healing Guy Ritchie rift and acting with Jack Nicholson: ‘I don’t like arrogance’

Mind your own business!” bellows Ray Winstone. “What are you, a policeman?” He’s kidding. I think. We’re doing an interview to promote Guy Ritchie’s new Netflix TV series, The Gentlemen, and the London-born star is reacting to my inquisitiveness, but with a bit of prodding, he’s prepared to share his views on Jack Nicholson, the Oscars and a certain actor who insulted him in front of 250 people and is going to suffer the consequences (“He was rude. He was f***ing ’orrible… but his time will come!”). When it comes to fighting talk, Winstone’s the daddy.

Born into an East End family, 67-year-old Winstone’s been acting since his teens and, with the help of Alan Clarke, Gary Oldman and Jonathan Glazer, revolutionised British cinema. In the past couple of decades, everyone from Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg to Darren Aronofsky and Robert Zemeckis has fought to work with him, though the receptionist at the Corinthia Hotel fails to get even the tiniest bit excited when I mention his name. Ray Winstone, the insouciantly pugnacious star of ultra-violent classics Scum, Nil by Mouth and Sexy Beast? “Sorry,” the receptionist says, “I’m 21. I don’t watch old movies!”

As it happens, Winstone’s in a ton of new movies (including Damsel, with Stranger Things’s Millie Bobby Brown and A Bit of Light, opposite True Blood’s Anna Paquin). And The Gentlemen is getting a huge push. A spin-off from Ritchie’s highly profitable 2020 crime caper, it features Winstone as Bobby Glass, a patrician west London gangster forced to do business with a resourceful toff, Eddie Horniman (The White Lotus’s Theo James).

Glass hosts a gourmet winter BBQ and when he first meets Eddie, purrs, “Put your legs under the table. Warm your knees.” Today, slick in dark glasses, Winstone says, “Sit your bum down!” He sees that I’m having mint tea. “Smells nice! It’s good for you, isn’t it? Helps you digest.” Having joked that it’s a bit early for champagne, he gulps sparkling water, while keeping a tight grip on his vape.

He explains why it’s taken so long for him to collaborate with Ritchie. “We haven’t always had the best relationship, put it that way. It was back when we were younger, but then you grow up.” Why did they row? Winstone pretends to pull a stern face. “Stop being a journalist! I’ve given you enough!”

Winstone has said, in previous interviews, that he relishes playing characters who aren’t gangsters. Anyone who’s compared and contrasted the dysfunctional fathers he plays in Nil by Mouth, Tim Roth’s The War Zone and Alzheimer’s drama Ashes knows how flexible Winstone can be, as capable of heart-pinching pathos as he is of grizzled bellicosity and spite. I’ve always thought Winstone would make a fabulous King Lear and, it turns out, Winstone agrees. In case you’re wondering, he wouldn’t change a word of the text. (“It’s very cleverly written, innit, by a very clever man … I’d wanna go back to the nitty gritty of no mobile phones, just concentrate on this family and do it down and dirty.”)

Here’s my question: if Winstone had the chance to make a movie version of Lear, would he want Guy Ritchie to direct it or Gary Oldman, the visionary south Londoner behind Nil by Mouth? “With Guy, who’s brilliant at what he does, he heightens everything,” Winstone muses. “He’d give it pace. Someone like Gary would be much more into the reality side of things. It depends what alley you want to go down. I think, for my style, I’d probably go with Gary.” Winstone sits up straight and says, firmly, “I’d want to do it with Gary! But then again…” He smiles, craftily: “If it was only offered by Guy, I’d go with Guy.” Winstone tips his head to one side and adopts a cutesy, finger-in-dimple kind of voice, “Because that’s the kind of guy I am!”

Winstone had beef with Jack Nicholson on the set of Scorsese’s Oscar-winning 2006 thriller The Departed (during a Bafta Q&A, in 2014, Winstone described Nicholson as arrogant). Asked, now, why Nicholson might have taken a dislike to him, Winstone says, “I have no idea, babe. You always look at yourself on set and think, ‘Ooh, I’m alright. I get on with everyone. I do what I gotta do and boom, I go home.’ But it doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t shock me. You clash a little bit. He’s not the first person I’ve clashed with. He won’t be the last.” He’d love to make another film with the Hollywood legend. “Of course I want to work with him again! He’s a fantastic actor!”

Dig a little bit deeper, though, and you get a sense of why Winstone was willing to go public about Nicholson’s behaviour: “I don’t like arrogance,” he explains. “There’s no need for it. This kind of feeling of being above everyone else. We all end up in the same hole in the ground. But some people have this smarmy little side mouth. You know, they make cracks for everyone else, but not for you. You think, ‘Oh, really?’ And there’s different ways of dealing with that. You either say your piece and tell them to shut the f*** up. Or you punch them in the mouth.”

Yikes! Winstone quickly points out there’s a third way. He mimes wiping his hands, in a state of Zen-like calm and explains that, especially nowadays, he’s able to regulate his emotions. So he’s learnt to forgive and forget? Er, not quite. “I worked with some guy, who’s quite high up,” says Winstone, “and I haven’t seen him since I worked with him, but I’m looking forward to seeing him. He knows who he is. And he’s gonna get a real tug from me. Cos he was rude, he was f***ing ’orrible.” What’s a tug? “He’s gonna get pulled to one side. Because you don’t want to do that in front of a crew of 250 people. I just looked at him. But his time will come. And he’ll get it.” Is this man English or American? With exquisite comic timing, Winstone replies, “It don’t matter. English.”

Winstone insists he doesn’t enjoy conflict but concedes he gets a kick out of testing boundaries. He describes “winding up” director, Ian Rickson, when they were working on the 1995 play Pale Horse at the Royal Court Upstairs. It’s a tiny venue (as Winstone says, “You’re very close to the audience, they’re all around ya”). One scene involved him lying on a bed and, on several occasions, Winstone threw his arm out so it landed on the lap of someone in the audience. Winstone giggles. “The director, he used to say to me, ‘No, Ray, don’t do that!’” Winstone, while making a phone call on stage, would also deliberately make eye contact with the theatregoers. “You catch someone’s eye. So it’s like you’re talking to them, on the phone. Rickson says, ‘You mustn’t do that, Ray! You’re making the audience uncomfortable.’”

Winstone knew exactly what he was doing: “I was breaking rules. Taking away that voyeur thing.” He clicks his fingers and performs a shiver: “I loved it. That little moment of shock. You could feel it go through the audience!” What was he trying to tell these people? Winstone leans forward and, even through his dark glasses, his eyes are shining: “‘Wake up!’” He clicks his fingers again. “‘I’m ’ere!’”

The sparkling water, by the way, is playing havoc with Winstone’s insides. Midway through telling me how lovely it was to work with Rickson and the rest of the crew, Winstone lets out an almighty belch. “Scuse me,” he guffaws, “I’m burping!”

Never a man to stand on ceremony, he claims he’s not intimidated by wealth or prestige. He says, “Sophistication’s not about money. You either got it or you ain’t. Someone from the East End can put on a plastic bag and look absolutely fantastic and some people can wear a three-piece suit, made in Savile Row, and look like a bag of s***.”

Having a laugh is what gets Winstone through the day. And he thinks fun is what’s missing from a lot of modern life, including awards shows like the Baftas and Oscars. “I used to go to the Baftas. I liked it when you’re sitting round the table as the awards are given out, sitting there with your mates. You have a drink. You get rowdy. But now the Baftas has become like the Oscars, where you’re just sitting down for three and a half to four hours. Do you really wanna do that? To watch someone else win an award? F*** off! It’s like putting red hot pokers in your eye!” He sucks on his vape. “I’m just getting old and grumpy, I suppose. I just don’t want to sit there for four hours, at my age, dying to have a wee. Done up in a bow tie. F***ing really?”

Still, he’d be pleased if he was nominated. Especially for an Oscar. “F***, yeah!” He shifts his seat, so he’s looking right at me. “Listen, I’m not gonna get an Oscar. And that’s fine. Babe, it’s fine! I have no problem with that. I won’t lose no sleep over it. I’m just saying I wouldn’t turn it down.”

He’s chuffed Jonathan Glazer’s leftfield Holocaust epic, The Zone of Interest, is getting so much attention and says he’s desperate to see it. He hasn’t, as yet, because “I’ve been working and the last thing I want to do is go and watch something when I’m working… But I must go and see Johnny’s film because he’s one of the cleverest boys I know.”

Winstone is just as keen to praise clever girls. Of his Nil by Mouth co-star Kathy Burke, he says, “I worked on a play she done, Mr Thomas. She used to tell me off something rotten sometimes but I’ve always loved her to death. She’s probably one of my favourites who I’ve ever worked with. She’s a remarkable girl. A remarkable woman. Yes, she’s funny, but there’s also lots of other sides to Kathy.” He doesn’t know if they’ll collaborate again. “Working with the same people all the time, I’m not sure that’s up her street.” He adopts a Twilight Zone voice: “Who knows what goes on in Kathy’s head?”

Who knows what goes on in Ray’s head? He and his wife, Elaine, have three daughters (including Jaime, a star in her own right) and one grandchild. During Covid, Winstone spent a chunk of time by himself, in the family’s second home in Sicily, and started writing a script about Repton, the boxing club where he trained as a teen. “How’d you know about that?” he says, tittering. “Yeah, I got a little thing.”

For the first time in the interview, he emits something close to a sigh. “I haven’t shown it to anyone yet. I’m going to show it to my mate, first, who is a writer who boxed for Fitzroy Lodge and a very clever boy. I want him to tell me what he thinks.” What’s his name? I’m pretty sure it’s Johnny Harris, with whom Winstone worked on the bleak boxing and addiction drama Jawbone. “I’m not telling you!”

The electrifyingly clever Winstone wants to break down boundaries and get real but is in no rush to bare his soul. As he says, before warmly shaking my hand, “Got to have a few secrets, ain’t ya?”

All eight episodes of ‘The Gentlemen’ premiere on Netflix on 7 March

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.

What’s behind the crisis in council services – and can Labour fix it?

England’s councils are in financial crisis and many will collapse in the coming years, according to the Local Government Information Unit. It warns that, unless the funding system is reformed, more than half the councils who responded to its survey will be unable to balance their books over the next five years.

Two-thirds of councils say they are cutting services, and many are pushing council tax and charges higher. All of which is on top of the deep cuts suffered during the “age of austerity” after 2010.

The problem has been highlighted by the plight of Birmingham City Council, which last year had to issue a Section 114 (s114) notice, in which a local authority’s finance director is required by law to give notice the council can no longer afford to keep operating. It refers to the relevant part of the 1988 Local Government Finance Act. The widening crisis will not be easy to contain.

MPs must be free to speak and vote without fear of violence and abuse

It is a sad necessity that members of parliament need the kind of enhanced personal protection that they are now to be offered. As the home secretary, James Cleverly, says, no politician should have to accept threats or harassment as “part of the job”. Yet they do, and, in the age of social media “pile-ons”, the abuse can be intense. Though there never was some golden age of genteel debate in the rumbustious world of politics, the time is right to guarantee that every member of parliament can speak and vote without fear of such consequences. Recent events in particular confirm that urgent need.

For some MPs, it has meant a rowdy mob surrounding their home. A group of activists protested outside the Dorset residence of Tory MP Tobias Ellwood – accusing him of being “complicit in genocide” and calling for him to demand “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire” in Gaza.

There is, of course, no policy difference that can justify such close-quarters intimidation. Yet it is not so unusual. Recently, Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour Party, was barracked in visceral terms in the street and, much more grievous, the office of Mike Freer, the justice minister and MP for Finchley and Golders Green, appears to have been the subject of an arson attack, most likely because of his opinions about Israel. He’s revealed he now wears a stab vest when attending public events.