The Telegraph 2024-03-01 16:30:38

Live Politics latest news: Michael Gove suggests Boris Johnson should return to campaign for Tories

Michael Gove has suggested Boris Johnson should return to the political frontline and campaign to help the Tories win the next general election. 

The Housing Secretary said he wanted to see the “whole Conservative family come together” to stop a Labour victory. 

Asked if he would like to see the former prime minister come back and campaign for the Tories, Mr Gove told GB News: “The first thing is yes, I absolutely believe [the Tories can win the general election]. I have been involved in campaigns in the past where we started out in the low 20s and we ended up getting 52 per cent of the vote. 

“I was one of the people involved in the Brexit campaign. Campaigns can change people’s minds and you can win even when it appears at the start of the campaign you are pretty far behind. 

“And talking of that Brexit campaign, of course Boris played a big part in that. Boris is a great campaigner. What I would like to see is the whole Conservative family come together in order to ensure that this country doesn’t face the nightmare of a Keir Starmer premiership.”

You can follow the latest updates below and join the conversation in the comments section here

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Revealed: how Putin plans to flood West with migrants

Russia is using private militias to control and “weaponise” immigration into Europe, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Kremlin has influence over a number of the main routes into the continent and border police are warning that, with the arrival of spring, Russia is likely to “intensify” its efforts to move migrants.

It has been widely feared that Vladimir Putin is using the tactic to destabilise Europe.

The Telegraph has now seen intelligence documents detailing plans for Russian agents to set up a “15,000-man strong border police force” comprising former militias in Libya to control the flow of migrants.

A security source said: “If you can control the migrant routes into Europe then you can effectively control elections, because you can restrict or flood a certain area with migrants in order to influence public opinion at a crucial time.”

It comes as migration is set to be a key issue in the general election.

A failure to control the number of migrants coming to the UK is already seen as a major weakness for Rishi Sunak, who is struggling to push through a scheme to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda to stop the flow of small boats across the Channel.

In the year to June 2023, 52,530 illegal migrants were recorded as entering the UK, up 17 per cent on the previous year. Most of these crossed the Channel in small boats.

Figures released on Thursday revealed that the number of people granted asylum in the UK hit a record high in 2023 as officials waved through thousands of applications in an attempt to clear a huge post-pandemic backlog.

 A surge of migrants into Europe this winter prompted by Putin could lead to an increase in small boats crossing this summer, when people smugglers make use of the better weather to send people across the Channel, putting Mr Sunak under further pressure.

Frontex, the EU’s border police, says it has seen Russia using migration “as a lever in a larger game of influence and pressure”.

The agency is warning that an increasingly isolated Putin choosing to move migrants to Europe’s doorstep – both along Russia’s eastern borders and through proxies in the south, including in Africa – is a major threat to security for 2024.

It comes amid growing tensions between Russia and the West, with Putin using his annual state of the nation speech on Thursday to warn that he will use nuclear weapons if Nato countries send troops into Ukraine.

The president told the Kremlin that “strategic nuclear forces” were “in a state of full readiness for guaranteed use” and boots on the ground could lead to “the destruction of civilisation”.

Mercenaries including the Wagner group have been fuelling migration by increasing instability and violence in parts of Africa under their control and by physically moving migrants to the borders and supporting smugglers, experts say.

Robert Jenrick, the former immigration minister, told The Telegraph: “The UK’s adversaries are weaponising the flow of people in Europe’s near abroad, as we witnessed on the border between Belarus and Poland and Lithuania in 2021, and exacerbating instability in the Maghreb and Sahel region through the use of proxies.”

The warning has been echoed by ministers across Europe.

Russia’s plans to set up a Libyan militia, as seen by The Telegraph, fell through when payments due to be made via the “the Russian-Libyan cultural institute” in Moscow were never made. No record of such a company exists.

However, thousands of Wagner mercenaries have been fighting in Libya’s civil war since at least 2019 for Russia ally General Khalifa Haftar, and the group has a stronghold in the region.

Antonio Tajani, Italy’s deputy prime minister, has said that Rome has intelligence that the mercenaries “are very active and in contact with trafficking gangs and militia interested in migrant smuggling”.

His government has blamed a surge in the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean on Wagner, whom they accuse of waging “hybrid warfare”.

The largest increase in migrants last year was through that central Mediterranean route, according to Frontex, which noted that at 380,000, the number of irregular border crossings in 2023 was at its highest since 2016.

Women and children accounted for only 20 per cent of the total, the data show.

Frontex recorded more than 62,000 onward crossings toward the UK.

Amid growing tensions over the conflict between Israel and Gaza, Russia has also been strengthening its ties with Tunisia, another major source of migrants into the central Mediterranean.

Russian mercenaries are already known to be active across Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan.

Dr Sergey Sukhankin, a senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation and an adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington, said that observers tended to focus on Russian paramilitaries’ role in propping up African regimes, and not on the impact on migration.

“If we take a look at their map, you will see that the Central African Republic holds a strategic place, which gives the Russian paramilitaries inroads to Sudan, which is another key player, and then on to the smugglers’ route through to Libya,” he said.

“The migration routes are inseparable from the localities and places where the Wagner Group and other Russian paramilitaries are present.

“The various waves of illegal migrants from Africa might increase, because Russia is planning to create a new military facility in the Central African Republic. I think the capacity is about 2,000 men so this will give Russia additional leverage in terms of navigating those migration flows from the Sub-Saharan Africa region on to Libya and then on to the European Union.”

In its latest risk report, Frontex warns: “Given the extent of hostility between Russia and the West and the reduced interdependence between them, the likelihood of the instrumentalisation of migrants by Russia and Belarus has increased.

“Importantly, the instrumentalisation of migrants may not only be limited to the eastern land borders as Russia’s allies and proxies to the south and south-east could be leveraged.”

EU law defines “instrumentalisation of migrants” as a situation where another country “instigates irregular migratory flows… by actively encouraging or facilitating the movement” of migrants to the borders in order to “destabilise” the EU or a member including putting at risk “its territorial integrity, the maintenance of law and order or the safeguard of its national security”.

The European Parliament is in the process of passing an “emergency migration and asylum management procedure” to deal with the “highly worrying phenomenon” of “the increasing role of state actors in artificially creating and facilitating irregular migration, using migratory flows as a tool for political purposes”.

It started taking action in 2021 after Belarusian leader and close Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko sent thousands of migrants from the Middle East into the EU by inviting people – mainly in Iraq – to fly to Minsk and then bussing them to the heavily forested border with Poland and telling them to walk across.

Frontex officers were deployed to Finland in November when the country was forced to close several of its border crossings with Russia after seeing a dramatic spike in the number of migrants without proper visas and documentation, mostly from the Middle East and Africa.

Elina Valtonen, the Finnish foreign minister, said that it was “undoubtedly” Russia using migration as “hybrid warfare” and in some cases it was “actively helping” migrants to travel to the border.

A Frontex spokesman told The Telegraph: “These developments illustrate broader strategies that seem to be employed by state actors like Russia and Belarus, aimed at stress-testing the resilience of borders shared with EU and Schengen countries.

“This is not just a matter of border security but also of geopolitical tension, where migration is used as a lever in a larger game of influence and pressure. It is disturbing to see the desperation of people seeking to come to the EU used ruthlessly as pawns in a geopolitical game.

“While these incidents in Finland are currently at a relatively contained scale, they signal a potential risk that could intensify, particularly with the arrival of spring – a period traditionally associated with increased migratory movements.

“The situation could further escalate if there is active facilitation of crossings by the authorities in question.”

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Live Russians chant ‘no to war’ near Navalny’s grave – follow latest

Crowds in Moscow chanted anti-Ukraine war slogans as they lined the streets to pay their respects to Alexei Navalny.

Thousands of people, including senior diplomats, headed out to mourn the Russian opposition leader, who died in prison last month and was buried on Friday.

Many clutched bunches of flowers and chanted “No to war”, “Russia will be free”, “Russia without Putin” and “Putin is a murderer”.

A steady stream of people passed through the cemetery after Navalny’s burial to throw a handful of soil into his grave or leave a floral tribute.

Earlier, Anatoly Navalny and Lyudmila Navalnaya kissed their son goodbye on his forehead before his open casket was sealed and lowered into the ground.

Follow below for the latest updates, and join in the conversation in the comments section below.

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Eight police officers who tried to rescue victims of a house fire hospitalised

Eleven people have been taken to hospital after a fire broke out at a terraced house in South Kensington on Friday morning.

Around 100 firefighters and 15 fire engines attended the blaze at the five-storey building on Emperor’s Gate, which is converted into flats. It broke out shortly after midnight, with 130 people forced to leave neighbouring buildings.

A London Ambulance Service spokesman said 11 people were treated at the scene before being “taken to hospitals and major trauma centres”.

London Fire Brigade said five people were rescued from the burning building, with the injured treated for smoke inhalation.

Two people were rescued from a second floor flat, one person was rescued from a first floor flat and another two were rescued from a flat on the fourth floor.

Half of the ground floor of the building was alight when firefighters arrived. Footage shared on social media showed a large cordon blocking public access to the area.

Speaking during the incident, Station Commander Steve Collins said: “The fire has spread from the ground floor to the top floor and roof of the property. Crews are working extremely hard to contain it to stop it spreading to adjacent buildings.

“Road closures are in place and likely to remain well into the morning rush hour, so motorists are advised to avoid the area. However, there is no impact on rail services and they will be running as normal.”

Emergency services were still at the scene on Friday morning. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

A Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea spokesman said: “We are aware of the situation and liaising with emergency services to offer support.”

The council said staff were providing assistance at a nearby hotel, where residents are being sheltered.

Kim Taylor-Smith, the deputy leader, added: “We are on the ground and providing support and accommodation to residents impacted.

“I also want to thank the emergency services for the incredible job they have done in very challenging conditions, and to staff at the council who have sprung into action in the middle of the night.”

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Prince Harry and Elton John granted access to secret records in hacking claim

The Duke of Sussex and Sir Elton John are to be given secret documents from the Leveson Inquiry to support their phone hacking claim against the Daily Mail following a decision by the Government.

In a notice published last night, ministers approved a request from six high-profile figures to unseal documents submitted as part of the public inquiry into hacking more than a decade ago.

The documents outline payments made to private investigators by both the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.

The notice, which was signed by Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and Home Secretary James Cleverly, states that the ledger cards may be used by the claimants and their lawyers for the purposes of their claims.

Prince Harry and Sir Elton John are among a group of celebrities to have filed a lawsuit alleging widespread unlawful behaviour at Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Mail titles.

Actors Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost have also brought the claim, alongside former politician Simon Hughes and Doreen Lawrence, the campaigner and mother of Stephen Lawrence.

They have accused the newspaper group of phone hacking and other unlawful information gathering including placing listening devices in cars and recording private phone conversations dating back over three decades.

In a joint statement, Ms Frazer and Mr Cleverly said: “We do not consider that it is necessary in the public interest to withhold these documents from any disclosure or publication and have decided to vary the FRO [final restriction order] so as to allow the disclosure of these documents solely for the purposes of the proceedings. 

“In this case, in our judgement, the public interest in promoting the just, speedy and economic resolution of the proceedings outweighs the countervailing public interests.”

They added that the decision made no comment on the merits of the legal claim, adding that this was a matter for the courts to determine.

The intervention by ministers will come as a major boost to the celebrities after a judge ruled in November that they could not use leaked copies of the ledgers in their case as they were supplied to the Leveson inquiry in confidence.

The notice varies a restriction order imposed by Sir Brian Leveson in 2012, meaning the documents can now be used.

Associated Newspapers, which has always denied the allegations, applied to have the claims dismissed partly on the basis that the documents were sealed. The company also argued that the claims were outside a time limit for legal action.

But a judge dismissed this application in November, meaning the case can be heard at trial. It is likely to take place early next year.

It comes a month after the Duke of Sussex dropped a separate libel claim against the Daily Mail.

The prince had sued the publisher over an article in the Mail on Sunday about his taxpayer-funded security arrangements after stepping back as a senior royal.

The newspaper said he would now be liable to pay its legal costs of £250,000.

Associated Newspapers has been contacted for comment.

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BBC’s Justin Webb broke impartiality rules by calling trans women ‘males’

The BBC’s Justin Webb broke impartiality rules by calling trans women “males” on air.

The corporation upheld a complaint against the Today presenter after he said “trans women, in other words males” on the BBC Radio 4 programme last August.

A listener complained that the comment amounted to Mr Webb giving his personal view on a controversial matter in breach of the BBC’s requirements on impartiality.

The BBC’s editorial complaints unit (ECU) agreed, saying it “gave the impression of endorsing one viewpoint in a highly controversial area”.

Gender-critical activists said on Thursday that the ruling showed the BBC had “lost sight of its statutory duty to be impartial”.

Mr Webb, 63, made the comment during a discussion on Aug 22 last year about new International Chess Federation (FIDE) guidelines regarding whether being biologically male can give players an advantage in the game.

The BBC’s complaints unit, in a ruling published on Thursday, said it was not in a position to determine Mr Webb’s personal opinion on the issue but that it was not necessary to do so in order to judge whether he had breached impartiality rules.

It said: “The ECU understood Mr Webb’s intention in using the phrase ‘trans women, in other words males’ was to underline the question arising from the FIDE guidelines but noted a press line issued at the time included an acknowledgement that his phrasing did not convey an entirely accurate impression.

“In relation to impartiality, however, the ECU considered it could only be understood by listeners as meaning that trans women remain male, without qualification as to gender or biological sex, and that, even if unintentional, it gave the impression of endorsing one viewpoint in a highly controversial area. It therefore upheld this aspect of the complaint.”

The ECU said this finding has now been “discussed with Justin Webb and the Today team”.

The ruling did not agree that a failure to mention the position of the English Chess Federation on the issue amounted to “bias by omission”. As a result, the unit “part upheld” the complaint.

Transphobia accusations

Mr Webb had a similar ruling partly upheld against him in February 2022 after alluding to his personal view on transphobia accusations against university professor Kathleen Stock.

During an introduction of Radio 4’s newspaper review in October 2021 he said: “And quite a lot of coverage still of Kathleen Stock, the academic from Sussex University who’s been abused by students who accuse her, falsely, of transphobia.”

In the same month, Mr Webb was criticised for asking Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats leader, if there should “not be spaces where biological males cannot go” in reference to trans women.

In a recent discussion on a book about the controversial Tavistock gender identity clinic, Mr Webb said people “shy away” from the subject because they are “afraid of bullying or being bullied”.

He told the Independent: “Everyone is genuinely terrified, but we’ve got to be able to speak freely about these things.”

The presenter said trans issues had become “so heated” but that most people were “a bit worried about where it takes us” and there were “legitimate fears about where children – particularly troubled children – stand”.

On Thursday. Fiona McAnena, director of campaigns at the women’s rights group Sex Matters, said: “Today’s ruling clearly shows the BBC has lost sight of its statutory duty, as the national, taxpayer-funded broadcaster, to be impartial.

“Webb’s position is factual and reflects the views of most British TV licence-holders. Polling consistently shows that a majority of the public rejects the assertion that ‘trans women are women’.

“By making clear that ‘trans women’ are male, Webb was simply doing his job, since a third of the population are uncertain what the term ‘trans woman’ means. By disciplining a presenter who states biological reality and seeks to inform his audience, the BBC has lost all credibility.”

The BBC has also revealed it had received 287 complaints about its coverage on a story about the claim that trans women’s milk was as good as breast milk.

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Christian Horner messages leaked to hundreds via anonymous email

Christian Horner and Red Bull have been plunged into a fresh crisis following a leak of secret evidence from the investigation that cleared him of inappropriate behaviour towards a female colleague…

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