INDEPENDENT 2024-03-06 22:34:22


Lords vote to exempt heroes who supported UK troops from Rwanda flight

Peers have voted to exempt Afghan heroes who have supported UK troops from being sent to Rwanda as part of Rishi Sunak’s flagship small boats bill.

The House of Lords backed an amendment on Wednesday night that would prevent the government from removing anyone who supported British armed forces in an “exposed or meaningful manner” from being deported to the African country.

It comes after extensive reporting by The Independent on the plight of Afghan heroes who helped the British but were left behind after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Two former chiefs of defence staff, a former defence secretary and a former British ambassador to the US were among the Lords who supported the clause. Peers voted 244 to 160 in favour of the amendment tabled by Labour peer Des Browne, which also covers the family members of those who supported British troops.

The Independent has documented a number of cases of asylum seekers who supported the UK armed forces efforts in Agfhanistan and who have since been threatened with removal to Rwanda after arriving in the UK via small boat.

Peers inflicted a number of heavy defeats against Mr Sunak’s bill on Wednesday night.

The House of Lords backed an amendment that would overturn the government’s plan to oust the domestic courts from the process of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The clause, backed by 278 votes to 189, restores the jurisdiction of the domestic courts in determining the safety of Rwanda and allows them to intervene in certain cases.

Mr Sunak’s government is using the Safety of Rwanda Bill to try and prevent any legal challenges by asylum seekers to their deportation.

The bill also currently gives ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights, aiming at clearing the way to send asylum seekers on flights to Rwanda by spring.

Peers in the House of Lords also voted by 265 to 181 to enable UK courts to consider appeals against age assessment decisions before a person claiming to be an unaccompanied child is removed to Rwanda.

The latest government setbacks to its Rwanda Bill follow five defeats on Monday, setting the stage for an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords during “ping-pong”, where legislation is batted between the two Houses until agreement is reached.

The prime minister had previously warned the Lords against frustrating “the will of the people” by hampering the passage of the bill, which has already been approved by MPs.

Ahead of the next election, Mr Sunak has made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership.

Speaking against the bill on Wednesday, Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “The courts are there to ensure justice is done and I think justice in this case does require the ability for the law, as it impacts on an individual, to be tested in the courts.

“That strikes me as something which is fundamental to the way rule of law operates.

“Sometimes that’s really inconvenient to governments… but justice is an important part of our democracy.”

Speaking in favour of the amendment to stop the deportation of age-disputed children, Lord Dubs, a former child refugee from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, said: “It’s difficult assessing the age of children, officials can get it wrong, and this modest amendment simply seeks to provide a safeguard against getting it wrong. Yes, the minister can say, ‘If we get it wrong the child can be brought back from Rwanda’. What a terrible thing to subject a child to.

“Asylum-seeking children are among the most vulnerable of all asylum seekers.”

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, a former child refugee from Iran, said: “Safeguarding is not some burdensome requirement, but a legal and moral imperative.”

She asked: “Would you consent for this course of action for your own child or grandchild? I do not believe there is any one among us who would.”

The government’s own provisions in the Safety of Rwanda Bill would mean a person claiming to be an unaccompanied child is assessed by two Home Office officials and a decision is made based on appearance and demeanour.

If they are judged to be an adult, they will be sent to Rwanda. The unamended bill would allow judicial review if certain conditions are met, but the person claiming to be a child would need to engage with the process from Rwanda.

They would also only be able to challenge the decision based on an error in the law, not on the basis of an error in fact.

Emily Maitlis told to ‘f*** off’ by Trump ally after she’s grilled on conspiracy theory

US politician Marjorie Taylor Greene told Emily Maitlis to “f*** off” in an explosive interview about Donald Trump and conspiracy theories.

The republican congresswoman and keen Trump supporter was confronted by the former BBC presenter at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago headquarters on Tuesday as the former president secured candidacy wins in several states.

After just over a minute of conversation, the line of questioning turned bitter as the pair discussed conspiracy theories.

After being asked about a former Facebook post she had made about a Rothschild-owned space laser sparking wildfires, Greene responded: “Why don’t you go talk about Jewish space lasers and really why don’t you f*ck off? How about that?”

Before the encounter became aggressive, The News Agents host first asked Ms Greene about her opinion on Trump’s Republican opponent Nikki Haley, to which she suggested Ms Haley drop out of the race and support Trump.

“We’ve been encouraging her to drop out and support President Trump and I think tonight is the clear message that President Trump is the clear front runner,” she said.

“He’s the winner in our Republican primary and it’s time for Nikki Haley to drop out and support him.”

Ms Maitlis then asked if she hoped to be on Donald Trump’s potential Vice President list to which Greene said it would be a “long list” and that she would be happy to support Trump in “any way he’d ask me.”

The conversation soon turned bitter when Maitlis asked the 49-year-old why “so many people who support Donald Trump love conspiracy theories, including yourself” and added: “He seems to attract lots of conspiracy theorists”.

Greene then hits out at Mailis, accusing her of being a conspiracy theorist herself. She said: “The left and the media spread more conspiracy theories. We like the truth, we like supporting out Constitution, our freedoms and America First.”

The line of questioning escalated further after Maitlis asked the congresswoman about “Jewish space lasers”, referring to a Facebook post Greene made that suggested a space laser controlled by the Rothschild family caused a wildfire in California.

Greene responded: “Why don’t you go talk about Jewish space lasers and really why don’t you f*ck off? How about that?”

The interview came after Trump won the primary ballot in Maine, Oklahoma, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

He told guests at his Flordia private club that November 5 would be the most important day in American history.

“November 5 is going to go down as the single most important day in the history of our country,’ he said.

“We’re not respected right now our country is known as a joke. It’s a joke.

“Other leaders … can’t believe what happened to us because three years ago we were the most respected country anywhere in the world by far.”

Dumbledore actor Michael Gambon leaves £1.5m to wife and nothing to girlfriend

Harry Potter actor Sir Michael Gambon has left the entirety of his fortune to his wife of 61 years, Anne Gambon.

The 82-year-old star of stage and screen, who was most loved for his role as Dumbledore in the hit movies based on the novels by JK Rowling, passed away in September last year after a bout of pneumonia.

After his will was published on Tuesday (5 March), it was revealed that his long-term girlfriend, Philipa Hart, had been left nothing, in the three-page document seen by the Daily Mail.

Hart, who is a set designer, met Gambon during filming for Longitude in 2000. They have two teenage children together: Tom, 17 and William, 15.

The actor famously split his time between his wife Ms Gambon and his long-term girlfriend Hart for two decades.

The Layer Cake star drew up his will in 2016 and listed his wife, and their 60-year-old son Fergus, as executors for the document.

He had made arrangements for the entirety of his £1,465,882 fortune to be left to his son Fergus, in the event that his wife died before him.

His children with Hart received £10,000 each and a trophy according to the will. Both were left a silver heart Variety Club of Great Britain stage actor award, the eldest was left with one awarded in 1987 while the youngest received a trophy awarded in 2000.

Hart appears to have been left nothing in the will. The sum left in his will does not appear to include assets belonging to family members purchased before his death.

Gambon’s death was announced by his wife, Anne, and son Fergus via his publicist in September last year.

“We are devastated to announce the loss of Sir Michael Gambon,” they said.

“Beloved husband and father, Michael died peacefully in hospital with his wife, Anne, and son, Fergus, at his bedside, following a bout of pneumonia. We ask that you respect our privacy at this painful time and thank you for your messages of support and love.”

The legendary star of stage and screen, received three Olivier Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards and four Baftas in his lifetime.

Over a six-decade career, Gambon became a household name starring in the BBC series The Singing Detective but also played crime kingpin Eddie Temple in Noughties thriller, Layer Cake.

To younger audiences, however, he will be remembered as Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films. He took over the role in 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, two years after the death of Richard Harris.

Restaurants: stop offering vegan options instead of vegetarian meals

Let me start by saying this: I have nothing against vegans. Some of my best friends are vegan. (Well, maybe not best friends. Second-tier, certainly.)

I wish them well in all their endeavours. Above all, I wish them to be well-catered for when they go out for dinner. But here’s the thing: I am not vegan. And I also want to be well-catered for when I go out for dinner. Is that really too much to ask?

The growing trend of restaurants offering just one meat-free option that caters to all – vegetarians and vegans alike – has not only provoked a profound resentment within me, but sparked a lively and heated debate on social media. Restaurant critic and sometime MasterChef: The Professionals judge Jay Rayner recently tweeted about the phenomenon, saying: “Just had an email from a reader who is a vegetarian. Complaining about too much vegan food on menus. And asking for my sympathy and support. I intend to think very seriously about this issue.”

His post swiftly garnered more than 400 responses. While some couldn’t see the issue – “OK but vegetarians can eat vegan food? Seems that vegan is a suitable safety net for a restaurant to have” – others echoed my sentiments.

“I’m with them. I don’t love meat; bring back the f***ing cheese,” replied author and journalist Sophie Heawood.

I couldn’t agree more (including the swears).

I first stopped eating meat around eight years ago. Various factors played a part: a pescatarian live-in boyfriend at the time; a good friend who had started an ethical lifestyle blog who would tell me, eloquently and often, about the environmental impact of meat-eating and industrial farming. Largely vegetarian these days, I sometimes eat fish, too. I am well aware that veganism is the superior choice when it comes to carbon reduction – and I hope, someday in the not-too-distant future, I’ll be ready to take that next step. I’m not there yet though.

The reason I’ve managed to go this long without eating meat (other than the occasional drunken slip-up in McDonald’s at 2am) is that, for me, cutting it out has felt simple and achievable. By contrast, when I’ve previously tried going vegan, I’ve lasted all of 10 days before I get too frustrated by just how much forward-planning and imagination are needed to make it feasible, and too fed up by the sub-par alternatives to my favourite foods of cheese and eggs to make it enjoyable. It always induces me to throw in the towel completely and spectacularly, inspiring a powerful urge to order a chicken burger simply out of spite.

My current dietary choice is rooted in the classic climate change mantra: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Not eating meat is better than eating meat. For now, I’m sticking with the thing that’s less likely to prompt me to order that chicken burger.

It’s why, long before Rayner’s tweet, I was already guilty of chewing my friends’ ears off on multiple occasions when out for a meal where the only vegetarian options were also vegan. The example that most aggressively stoked my ire in recent months was a restaurant that served two mac and cheese dishes: one with meat, one with vegan cheese. With the best will in the world, even vegans will admit that, at present, there is no plant-based cheese alternative – or “cheeze”, should I say – that can compare to the real deal. I adore mac and cheese; it is one of life’s greatest joys. I want it to be rich, and creamy, and cheesy – and very much non-vegan. As someone who doesn’t eat meat, I hate that my only option is to settle for a pale imitation, simply because the chef is too lazy to create dishes for various dietary requirements.

Because that, in my humble opinion, is what it boils down to: laziness. The modern equivalent to 15 years ago, when my life-long vegetarian friend would bemoan the fact that the only option on the menu would inevitably be a goat’s cheese tart or goat’s cheese risotto (goat’s cheese being the single foodstuff she cannot abide). So, now I am bemoaning restaurants’ lack of care in doling out purely plant-based alternatives instead of bothering to offer separate dishes. Just because everyone can eat something, it doesn’t mean they want to. This robbing of choice is exactly the kind of thing that nudges people back to their carnivore ways – if it’s deciding between that or mac and “cheeze”, it’s clear which would be the more appealing.

Like I said: I’ve got no beef with vegans, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s restaurants who’ve used them as an excuse to cannibalise my menu options that I take issue with. When it comes right down to it, taking the one-size-fits-all (diets) approach does a disservice to both kinds of diner – and makes it harder than ever to resist that spite-fuelled chicken burger.

The harder Hunt tried to be funny and normal, the weirder he became

Actors say the secret of playing a drunk on stage is to try really hard to look sober. Jeremy Hunt spent Budget day trying to appear funny and normal, and managed brilliantly to be the exact opposite.

Hunt’s campaign to look normal started after breakfast with a jog with his labrador, and posting a video of himself saying: “I hate watching myself on TV.” But then he just blurted out “Great budgets change history”, which is the kind of thing only weird people say.

Normal people don’t have this exaggerated sense of destiny. Only people descended from 17th-century colonial administrators assume that, like Luke Skywalker, they were born to change the future. (Hunt’s ancestor was Sir Streynsham Master, who ran Madras for the East India Company and imposed licences on taverns and theatres.)

The truth about the £100k gender pension gap

It can be easy to bury your head in the sand when it comes to retirement, especially when it seems a long way off. But if you want to live comfortably when the time comes to stop working, planning ahead is vital. It’s even more important for women, who are on track to have significantly less money than men in later life.

Just as there’s a gender pay-gap, there’s also a discrepancy between how much income men and women have in retirement, too – and it’s even bigger. Research from Scottish Widows shows there is a massive 39% gender pension gap*. This gap grows wider over the course of an average woman’s working life – at 22, there is a £100 difference in pension savings between men and women. By 65, this has grown to a shocking £100,000 difference. For the average woman to level this out, she would have to pay an additional £96 every month over her working life.

Scottish Widows latest ‘Women and Retirement’ report shows that a third of women are not on track to achieve even a basic lifestyle in retirement, covering essential needs, with only a small amount left over for anything else. It means many women won’t have the money to live comfortably, let alone do the things they hope to in retirement, such as travel, socialise and pursue hobbies. The average woman is set to receive £12k per year of income in today’s money during retirement, after paying for any expected housing expenses, compared to £19k for the average man. This includes private pension, other long-term savings, inheritance and the state pension or pension credits.

This gender pension gap is largely driven by deep-seated structural issues. The gender pay/wage gap is a factor, as, naturally, when women earn less, they have less to save. Women are also more likely to work part-time and to take career breaks due to caring responsibilities and a lack of affordable childcare. “Childcare is a huge contributing factor for women, often resulting in them giving up work or reducing their working hours to look after their family,” says Jill Henderson, Scottish Widows’ Head of Business Development. “After women have children the gap between their pension and that of a typical man’s starts to widen. This is because women tend to take on the lion’s share of childcare and employment breaks or part time working – all of which are big drivers of the gender pension gap.” Research found 63% of mothers have either reduced the number of days they worked per week when returning from parental leave or have not yet returned, compared to just over 16% of men.

Some women bear the brunt more than others. “The inability to save has a devastating impact on women’s income and ability to thrive in later life,” says Henderson. “Those women who are in a relationship fare better, but those who are single, divorced or are single mothers are most vulnerable.”

Two-thirds of single women and 60% of divorced women aren’t on track for a minimum lifestyle in retirement, while for single mothers the figures are even starker, at 75%. Working part time, coupled with other financial pressures, makes it much more difficult for single mothers to save for retirement. To make things even more difficult, gaps in work for raising children can also affect eligibility for the state pension. It means that single mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty in retirement than the average UK woman.

The overall picture is worrying, but there is some room for optimism. Auto enrolment – where an employer must automatically enrol eligible employees into their pension programme – has nearly doubled the number of females saving into a workplace pension in the last decade. For most people, the state pension will not provide enough income to live comfortably in retirement, so it’s vital to invest in private pension pots.

Recent legislation is set to make two key changes to auto-enrolment; reducing the age requirement from 22 to 18, and removing the lower earnings limit (currently £6,240) which means helps people qualify for auto enrolment and get employer contributions and tax relief from the first ound they earn. “These changes will be most valuable to the young and lower paid, including those who work part-time, most of whom are women,” says Henderson.

The ideal amount to be putting away is 15% of your salary (a combination of what you and your employer pay in, plus any tax relief), but even if you can’t manage that, every little bit makes a difference, especially if you get started today. “People can only save what they can afford to, but we suggest people check in on their pension regularly especially if their situation changes,” says Henderson. Young women are now more likely to start saving earlier in life than men — and the sooner you start, the better the position you’ll be in when you retire.

When it comes to planning for retirement, knowledge is power. Scottish Widows have created a new Beat The Gap tool (www.BeatTheGap.com) to help simplify how people engage with pensions, and make it easier for women (and men) to understand how things like working pattern, and childcare can affect their pension. By inputting some simple information, including gender, age and salary, it plots the user against the UK average pension across their lifetime. You can then see where the gap is most likely to emerge and get tailored tips on how to boost your pension and close the gap.

It’s part of a range of free educational support to help women plan for their retirement.

There’s a long way to go to close the gender pension gap, with many societal changes that need to happen. Until then, being aware of the factors that can affect their pension can help empower women to take the steps they need to ensure a more comfortable retirement, while they wait for the bigger picture to shift.

Find out more about the gender pension gap, plus expert tips and free tools to help you save for your retirement at Scottishwidows.co.uk/yourfuture

*2023 RR and 2023 W&R reports (based on the National Retirement Forecast)

The Budget is far too little, too late to save the Conservative Party

Well within living memory, a pre-Budget leak would be a resignation matter for a chancellor of the Exchequer – and Treasury ministers were placed in a state of strict pre-Budget “purdah”, during which media appearances were strictly forbidden. Times change, and now they’ve altered to the extent that Jeremy Hunt’s latest package of measures has been so widely and comprehensively floated, briefed and analysed that when he got to his feet he had nothing to add of any substance.

The cuts in national insurance, adjustments to child benefit thresholds, the freeze in fuel duty, and the “full expensing” on leased assets were so well-trailed that the announcements, all significant, were met only with a collective national shrug. Another tradition was broken because the Commons chamber was continuously noisy, and the deputy speaker made only token attempts to impose the sepulchral silence in which Budgets used to be heard, aside from rare moments of gross disorder.

The overall effect was to make the Budget less of an event than the government surely wished for. Indeed the lack of a final rabbit out of the hat – which in reality the press were fully expecting – left Mr Hunt presiding over something of an anti-climax. Rather than the crack of a starting pistol on a frantic period of electioneering, it was a bit boring. It may therefore be just as well that the supposed “early” election (in reality very close to the end of the parliament in any case) seems to have been abandoned. It certainly did not feel like a Budget that might be the game-changer the Tories so desperately need. On balance, Mr Hunt would have been better off keeping schtum.

Five Budgets that left their mark on history – for good and bad

It remains to be seen if Jeremy Hunt’s last spring Budget before the election makes much impact on his party’s chances of winning a fifth term. In truth, Budgets tend to be ephemeral things with measures reversed by successive administrations – or even by the same chancellor. However, a few Budgets did make their mark in history, for good and bad reasons…

This budget, coupled with a very tough spending settlement in the 1981 Autumn statement, marked an ideological as well as a political break with post-war traditions. Despite some moves in this direction during the previous Labour government, this was the first truly monetarist budget, placing money supply and targets for public borrowing and inflation ahead of considerations about unemployment. Previously, almost every government of both parties since the Second World War believed that achieving very low joblessness – “full employment” – was the overriding aim of government policy, even if it was getting more difficult to achieve amid bouts of inflation and price and wage controls that broke down.