The Telegraph 2024-03-07 16:00:35


Live Sunak refuses to rule out May election

Rishi Sunak has refused to rule out a general election in May.

The timing of the Budget and the possibility that the Government’s Rwanda plan could finally get off the ground in the coming weeks has prompted widespread speculation that a contest could be triggered sooner rather than later. 

Asked by Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 whether there would be an election in May, the Prime Minister laughed and said: “I’m not going to say anything extra about that. What I would say is what matters is the choice at that election, and the choice, especially after this Budget, is clear.

“Our plans are working. Of course there’s more work to do, we are starting to deliver the change that people want to see and if we stick with that plan people can have the peace of mind that there is a brighter future for them and their families.”

Jeremy Hunt said yesterday that his “working assumption” is the election will take place in the autumn. But Labour has claimed May is the Tories’ “preferred choice”. 

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Putin ‘will keep going if he’s not stopped’

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, will continue to be a threat for the rest of Europe if he is not stopped in Ukraine, Moldova has warned.

“If the aggressor is not stopped, he will keep going, and the frontline will keep moving closer. Closer to us. Closer to you,” said Maia Sandu, the Moldovan president, as she signed a defence and cooperation agreement with President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

Ms Sandu said that Russia was renewing its efforts to destabilise her country, adding: “Europe must therefore present a united front. Aggression must be repelled by a strong force.”

Her warning of Russian expansionism echoes that of Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, who earlier today stressed that Russia will continue to “intensify instability” in the world and provoke new conflicts if it is not stopped in Ukraine.

”Without deterrence, the Kremlin will continue to expand the zone of instability and foment new conflicts. This war must be won, and won decisively,” he said in a meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission chief, in Bucharest.

”This is not only a European war, it is a challenge to the international order, which, although imperfect, aims for our borders and sovereignty to be defined by law, not military power,” he said. 

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Live Constance Marten tells court family set private detectives on her

Constance Marten has claimed that she was followed by private detectives in a row over her grandmother’s will.

The wealthy aristocrat, 36, is accused of going on the run with her partner, Mark Gordon and their newborn baby Victoria in the depths of last winter, allegedly resulting in the child’s death.

Giving evidence at her manslaughter trial at the Old Bailey, Miss Marten told how she was previously “trying to flee my family” after the birth of her first child in 2017 when she discovered she was being “trailed by private detectives” in a family finances dispute.

After the birth of her fourth child Victoria, Miss Marten’s car was found with 34 “burner phones” inside. Miss Marten said this was because she and Mr Gordon believed that their mobiles and emails were being “hacked”.

She earlier told jurors that she “did nothing but show love” to Victoria.

The couple are accused of manslaughter by gross negligence, concealing the birth of a child, cruelty to a person under 16, causing or allowing the death of a child and perverting the course of justice. They deny all the charges. 

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Justin Welby accuses MPs of hate speech as he reveals he carries a panic alarm

The Archbishop of Canterbury has accused members of Parliament of hate speech and revealed he carries a panic alarm because of threats made against him.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said he had heard MPs and members of the Church of England making hateful comments “in the last few weeks” without specifying the incidents he was referring to.

The Archbishop’s remarks in an interview with The Spectator come less than a week after Rishi Sunak warned that extremists were attempting to undermine British democracy.

Lee Anderson, the former Tory deputy chairman, has also been suspended from the party after refusing to apologise for saying that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, was controlled by “Islamists”.

In an apparent reference to the criticism the Church has faced for opposing the Rwanda plan, the Archbishop said it had been accused of “colluding with evil” and that he carried a panic alarm, although further details were not disclosed.

“And we certainly – particularly bishops who are women – have had an enormous increase over the last year or two in abusive language,” he said.

He added: “More can be done legally, I’m sure it can, rigorous prosecution of threats, rigorous prosecution of abusive use of social media.

“Members of both Houses of Parliament being very careful about language and not accepting hate speech.”

The Church said last month that it was conducting an urgent review of its policies towards asylum seekers after being accused of presiding over a “conveyor belt” of fake conversions that enabled baptised migrants to gain leave to remain.

It has since admitted that it may have been “scammed” in some cases but has insisted that the Home Office bears ultimate responsibility for approving or rejecting asylum applications.

‘The boats must be stopped’

But Mr Welby said he does not support open borders and agrees with the Government that immigration should be cut.

“There’s a lot of what the Government says which I entirely agree with,” he said. “The boats must be stopped. We must limit access to our borders: three-quarters of a million in any year seems to me to be far too many.

“And so we must have good border control. And we must pursue, go after the traffickers. That I totally agree with.

“And as I said a couple of weeks ago, we entirely agree with the evidence. We just don’t agree with the means and may well be wrong in that.”

The Archbishop also denied that the 26 bishops in the House of Lords were biased against the Conservatives, saying there was no “bishop whip”.

“If you go back to the Blair government, and look, for instance, at the attitude of the bishops around the invasion of Iraq, you will find absolute, almost universal dislike of that, and speaking against it,” he said.

“And on numerous other issues, we were as objectionable to Labour last time they were in office as we have been to the Tories this time.”

Mr Welby, who became archbishop in 2012, has seen the later years of his tenure dominated by a drawn out debate over same-sex marriage which remains unresolved.

Anglican priests are able to conduct same-sex blessings as part of ordinary services but can neither conduct standalone blessing ceremonies, nor marry gay couples or get married themselves to someone of their own sex.

‘I can’t do this’

Now the Archbishop has admitted that he has contemplated quitting the job over the matter, which has seen conservative African, South American and Asian bishops disown him as head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“Oh there are moments,” he said when asked if he had considered resigning. “Normally when you spend three days talking about the nature of human sexuality. But that’s always been the case.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an impossible job. But it’s a complicated job, with huge international dimensions and enormous moments of pressure.

“But you do have moments – I don’t have many moments – when I’ve said, ‘I can’t do this’.”

Meanwhile, in the lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury – a leading critic of the Government’s Safety of Rwanda Bill – was told to “check his white privilege” by a former Conservative Cabinet minister during a debate on the legislation.

Speaking during the debate, Lord Lilley told the upper chamber that there is a precedent for Parliament to declare certain countries as safe.

Addressing Mr Welby, who has been scathing of the Bill, the Conservative peer said: “What’s the difference? The first is that in those days the list were all white countries, now we’re dealing with a black country.

“And I just warn him that he better check his white privilege and his colonial assumptions or he might find himself in trouble with some of his bishops.”

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London Fire Brigade launches investigation into police station blaze

Firefighters have launched an investigation into a blaze that destroyed large parts of a Metropolitan Police station in east London.

The roof of Forest Gate police station, in Newham, was left as a smouldering ruin on Thursday morning after flames tore through it on Wednesday night and 60 people were evacuated.

Fire chiefs have now launched a lengthy investigation, but Scotland Yard said the fire was not being treated as suspicious at this stage.

It has forced many officers and Met staff based in the large police station, on Romford Road, to move to other buildings in an attempt to ensure that response times and services are not delayed.

Dramatic pictures and videos showed 175 firefighters and 30 fire engines battling large flames, which burnt through the mansard roof for seven hours. 

Drone shots on Thursday morning showed a mangled mess in the aftermath of the blaze. There were no injuries reported, but residents were told to keep their doors and windows shut.

Forest Gate police station covers a large area between Stratford and Ilford. It is one of five stations covering a densely populated area with a 13-mile radius in the east of the capital.

In a statement, Commander Kyle Gordon of the Met said the fire was now under control and work was ongoing “to minimise the impact and return the area to normal as soon as possible”.

“I am fully aware of the impact this will have on our officers and staff who usually work out of Forest Gate,” he said. “We have been speaking with them and making sure they have the support they require, both now and in the coming days.

“Despite the impact of this fire, our ability to deliver a policing service remains unaffected. Our local teams will continue to serve their communities in and around Newham in their usual way and keep them safe.”

Assistant Commissioner Pat Goulbourne, London Fire Brigade’s Incident Commander, said: “This was a challenging incident for firefighters as the fire was located in the roof of the police station.

“Crews made extensive use of our 32 metre and 64 metre ladders to attack the fire from above, and our drone team was deployed to provide us with a view of the scene as we responded.

“Throughout the incident, a concern for our crews was the possibility of the fire spreading to adjacent properties. Thanks to their hard work, we were able to prevent that from occurring and the fire was limited to the police station.

“Firefighters also conducted operations to ensure that essential police property within the building remained protected from the blaze and moved to a place of safety.

“Our specialist fire investigators will now begin to carry out their investigation into the cause of the fire. Due to the scale and nature of the incident, this may be a protracted investigation.”

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National Guard deployed to New York subways to tackle crime

New York has deployed hundreds of National Guard troops to its subway network to tackle a boom in violent crime.

In what is believed to be a first, 750 National Guard soldiers will assist the New York City Police Department in patrolling the subways and conducting bag checks.

Kathy Hochul, New York’s Democratic governor, also announced on Wednesday that 250 state troopers will be sent to help out too.

While commuters have the right to refuse to have their bag checked by the guards, the officers can subsequently deny them access to the subway, Ms Hochul said.

“For people who are thinking about bringing a gun or knife on the subway, at least this creates a deterrent effect,” Ms Hochul said at a news conference.

The move comes following a string of recent high-profile assaults on commuters and transit workers, including three killings this year alone.

Last month, a subway conductor needed more than 30 stitches after an attacker slashed him in the neck.

In the first week of this month, three violent attacks have occurred including one incident that landed a teenage girl in hospital and another that saw a 64-year-old man fall onto the subway tracks.

The National Guard does not have the power to arrest people but they will assist the police who do.

The deployment comes as part of a larger five-point plan revealed by the governor’s office to address crime in the subway.

“I am sending a message to all New Yorkers: I will not stop working to keep you safe and restore your peace of mind whenever you walk through those turnstiles,” Ms Hochul said.

Included in the plan is a legislative proposal to ban people from trains if they are convicted of assaulting a passenger along with the installation of cameras in conductor cabins as a move to help protect workers.

While crime rates on New York City subways were down 15 per cent in February, compared with the same month last year, Ms Hochul said commuters were not reassured by “rattling off” crime statistics.

“Saying things are getting better doesn’t make you feel better. Especially when you’ve just heard about someone being stabbed in the throat or thrown onto the subway tracks. There’s a psychological impact,” she said.

About three million people use the New York City subway system daily, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority figures. Before the pandemic, this number was about five million.

Eric Adams, the New York City mayor, who used to patrol the subway when he was a police officer, emphasised that crime remains rare on what is one of the world’s largest subway networks.

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Activists swap Union flag for Palestinian on UK Government building in Edinburgh

A Palestinian flag has been hoisted above a major UK Government building in Edinburgh by protesters claiming Britain is “complicit in genocide” in Gaza.

A Union flag was removed and hurled to the ground by activists who scaled Queen Elizabeth House (QEH) in the city on Wednesday morning.

The front of the building has also been doused in red paint as a Palestinian flag was flown in place of the Union Jack.

Four people from the Scottish This is Rigged campaign group, which also focuses on climate change issues, said they had taken part in the protest.

The group said three of the activists, Fred Spoliar, 31, Ruby Hamill, 19, and Daniel Knorr, 22, hurled water balloons filled with red paint at government signage.

Catriona Roberts, 21, sprayed the glass front of the building with a fire extinguisher full of red paint.

The group said the building, the UK Government’s most prominent base in Scotland, had been targeted “specifically due to the UK Government’s ongoing endorsement of this genocide”.

Ms Roberts, a history student from Perthshire, said: “As long as the UK Government refuses to call for a ceasefire, we will continue to call not in Scotland’s name.

“As Palestine is bombed, burned and starved, this Government is complicit. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of screaming out into the world that we will not abide genocide.”

It comes days after Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street speech in which he denounced extremist pro-Palestinian protesters who do not respect the rule of law.

He said police would be encouraged to take a harder line, though policing in Scotland is a devolved matter. Police Scotland said its officers were “in attendance” at the protest, which began at around 10.30am.

A spokesman for the UK Government said: “We are aware of the protests and the police are in attendance. All of the staff in QEH are safe and no one has entered the building.”

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