INDEPENDENT 2024-04-14 10:04:23


Rwanda flights to take off ‘within weeks’, health secretary claims

The health secretary has said that flights carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda will take off “within weeks” despite being unable to disclose whether the government had found a carrier.

Victoria Atkins maintained she wants flights to take off “as quickly as possible”, adding that it’ll be “certainly within weeks.”

But when quizzed on Sky News about what airline would be carrying out the return flights, Ms Atkins was unable to answer.

She said: “The Home Office is working on this… believe you me the Home Office is ready to go.”

She added: “We have seen some real progress in the last year with the reduction small road crossing by a third, which is contrary actually to the trend we’ve seen across the European continent”. She said the Rwanda plan is just “one part of our overall plan to cut illegal migration.”

Her comments come as the government’s plan to deport migrants to Rwanda was thrown into turmoil after it was reported that Rwanda’s state airline turned down a proposal to transport UK asylum seekers to Kigali under Rishi Sunak’s offshore deportation scheme.

Reports last week suggested that RwandAir declined the government’s request late last year after being approached about running the removal flights.

The Financial Times quoted a Home Office insider, who claimed it was because of the potential damage to their brand.

Rishi Sunak has previously maintained that flights to Rwanda would take off in the spring and that controlling immigration is a major priority to his government.

Mr Sunak has even threatened to override the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights in order to ensure his Rwanda plan goes ahead.

In an interview, the prime minister defended his approach to tackling small boats crossing the Channel, but indicated he would be willing to leave the ECHR if it blocked his Rwanda policy.

He told The Sun’ “I believe that all plans are compliant with all of our international obligations including the ECHR, but I do believe that border security and making sure that we can control illegal migration is more important than membership of a foreign court because it’s fundamental to our sovereignty as a country.”

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill – which is set to return to parliament next week – includes provisions that would allow ministers to ignore orders from the foreign court.

But members of the more moderate One Nation Group of Tory MPs have warned against leaving the convention, while others have said such a move would breach the Good Friday Agreement which includes a requirement to incorporate the ECHR into Northern Irish law.

Saturday Night Takeaway viewers ‘in tears’ as Ant and Dec end series

Viewers of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway were left in tears last night when the presenting duo waved goodbye to the show as it goes on an indefinite hiatus.

Hosts Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly announced last year that they would be halting the ITV series as it seemed like the “perfect time to pause for a little while and catch our breath”. They started the show back in 2002 and have made 20 series.

In Saturday night’s two-hour-long final episode (13 April), celebrity guests included Girls Aloud, Craig David, Professor Brian Cox, This Morning duo Josie Gibson and Alison Hammond, Gogglebox‘s Scarlett Moffatt, and bands Kaiser Chiefs and S Club.

During the “Ant vs Dec” challenge, Donnelly beat McPartlin in a penalty shoot-out, while Saturday Night Takeaway regular and Catchphrase presenter Stephen Mulhern oversaw the competition dressed as a trophy.

Closing the show, the pair said it has been a privilege to run the show for 20 series.

McPartlin said: “Saturday Night Takeaway is the kind of show Dec and I watched every Saturday growing up, so it’s been an honour and a privilege to have made the show and to have been part of your Saturday nights for over 20 years.”

Donnelly, holding back tears, said: “We have truly adored every second of making the show, but there’s one thing we’ve never ever forgotten, and that’s the fact it’s not our show – it’s your show. So we’d like to say a massive thank you to you, our incredible audience.”

Viewers have said that the duo’s closing speech brought them to tears, and wondered if Saturday night TV will be the same again.

“Please don’t ask me if I’m tearing up over the end of Saturday Night Takeaway. I would rather not answer that,” one viewer wrote on X/Twitter.

Another despaired over the future of their Saturday night TV watching. “Next year is going to feel so depressing around this time. Whatever they replace Saturday Night Takeaway with won’t be the same,” said another fan.

“I’m not ready for no more Takeway,” said another. “It’s always been a comfort show for me.”

McPartlin and Donnelly, who met on teen drama Byker Grove, have been working together for more than 30 years and launched Saturday Night Takeaway in 2002.

At the end of the final episode, they looked back at highlight clips from the past two decades before performing a big musical number with McFly, who sang a version of their hit song “All About You” alongside the two presenters.

Ant and Dec will return to ITV later this year to host I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

Rayner’s former aide ‘contradicts housing claims in police statement’

The row over Angela Rayner’s previous living arrangements has deepened as her former aide reportedly wrote to police contradicting her claims.

Former staffer Matt Finnegan said there was “no doubt in my mind that this was Ms Rayner’s family home” when he visited her at what she says was her husband’s address in 2014.

Police are investigating whether Labour’s deputy leader broke electoral law after Tory allegations that she may have given false information about her main residence a decade ago.

She was registered at a former council house she bought in Stockport, but it is understood Conservative Party deputy chairman James Daly has suggested neighbours say she lived with her husband at a separate property.

Greater Manchester Police initially said it would not be investigating the allegations, but following a complaint from the Bury North MP, the force confirmed it had reassessed information and launched a probe.

Mr Finnegan left Ms Rayner’s employment with a £20,000 payout and a non-disclosure agreement after accusing her of disability discrimination and unfair dismissal. He has told police he “vividly” remembers her home was elsewhere, the Sunday Times reported.

He visited her around the time she became a parliamentary candidate at an address in Lowndes Lane, Stockport, in the summer of 2014, according to the paper.

“There was no doubt in my mind that this was Ms Rayner’s family home, where she lived with her then-husband, Mark,” his letter states.

“I remember it quite vividly because Ms Rayner was not at home at first and I had to wait for some time in my car before she eventually arrived. It was also memorable in that it was the first and only time I visited her home during the course of my voluntary work for her.”

Ms Rayner has promised to resign if she is found to have committed a crime, but said she “followed the rules at all times”.

Sir Keir Starmer has welcomed the police investigation into Ms Rayner’s living arrangements and said he had “full confidence” in her.

Shadow minister Jim McMahon dismissed the allegations earlier on Saturday as a “storm in a teacup” after defence secretary Grant Shapps accused Ms Rayner of “double standards”.

Ms Rayner previously suggested that former prime minister Boris Johnson should resign while Scotland Yard probed claims of Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street, prompting calls for her to step down while the police investigation continues.

However, Scott Wortley, a law lecturer at Edinburgh University, pointed out that any potential prosecution should have been launched within a year of the suspected crime.

Providing false information is an offence under Section 13D of the Representation of the People Act 1983, but the legislation imposes a time limit of a year for bringing any charge.

Magistrates extend that deadline in certain circumstances, but only by another year, according to the Act.

Mr Wortley described the police probe as “completely pointless”, saying: “Why waste money on investigating something absolutely time-barred? They would not do it for (Road Traffic Act) matters nearly a decade after it could be prosecuted.”

“It is not the role of the police to investigate something that could never be charged.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “Angela has always made clear she also spent time at her husband’s property when they had children and got married, as he did at hers.”

“The house she owned remained her main home.”

“Angela looks forward to sitting down with the appropriate authorities, including the police and HMRC, to set out the facts and draw a line under this matter.”

Holloway faceplants Gaethje in final second of UFC 300 fight

Max Holloway scored one of the greatest MMA knockouts of all time at UFC 300, faceplanting Justin Gaethje in the final second of their ‘BMF’ title fight.

The former featherweight champion was facing Gaethje in the latter’s preferred division, at 155lbs, but produced a masterclass over five rounds to put himself on the cusp of a decision win.

Yet with 10 seconds left on the clock, the Hawaiian risked his victory by looking at Gaethje, pointing at the canvas, and calling on the American to trade hands in one final frenzied exchange.

Gaethje obliged and was brutalised with a hard overhand right, which put the former interim champion out cold, sending him lolloping face-first to the mat.

It was a stunning ending to the most highly-anticipated fight of the night, at a historic event in Las Vegas, as Holloway took the ‘Baddest Motherf***er’ title from Gaethje in style.

Many had counted out Holloway, due to his ill-fated lightweight venture in 2019, when he lost on points to Dustin Poirier while challenging for the interim belt.

However, “Blessed” had more time to bulk up to lightweight on this occasion, and he looked healthy and comfortable in the Octagon, arguably winning the first four rounds before his mesmerising knockout. In the final second of round one, the 32-year-old seemed to break Gaethje’s nose with a spinning back kick, and Holloway would repeat the move throughout the bout, constantly troubling the “Highlight” with it.

After beating Gaethje, 35, Holloway called out reigning featherweight champion Ilia Topuria, who took the 145lbs gold from Alexander Volkanovski in February. Topuria knocked out Volkanovski, who previously went 3-0 against Holloway, to become champion, and the Georgian-Spaniard has since called on the UFC to stage an event in Madrid – preferably later in 2024.

In the co-main event of UFC 300, Zhang Weili retained her strawweight belt against Yan Xiaonan via unanimous decision (49-45, 49-45, 49-45), winning the first all-Chinese title fight in UFC history.

In the main event, Brazil’s Alex Pereira stopped Jamahal Hill in the first round to retain the light-heavyweight title, finishing the former champion with ground strikes after flooring him with a left hook. Hill’s eyes rolled back in his head as he fell to the canvas, before the American was battered with hammer fists from Pereira.

Full UFC 300 results

Alex Pereira def. Jamahal Hill via first-round knockout (left hook and ground strikes, 3:14)

Zhang Weili def. Yan Xiaonan via unanimous decision (49-4, 49-45, 49-45)

Max Holloway def. Justin Gaethje via fifth-round knockout (punch, 4:59)

Arman Tsarukyan def. Charles Oliveira via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)

Bo Nickal def. Cody Brundage via second-round submission (rear naked choke, 3:38)

Jiri Prochazka def. Aleksandar Rakic via second-round TKO (strikes, 3:17)

Aljamain Sterling def. Calvin Kattar via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Kayla Harrison def. Holly Holm via second-round submission (rear naked choke, 1:47)

Diego Lopes def. Sodiq Yusuff via first-round TKO (strikes, 1:29)

Renato Moicano def. Jalin Turner via second-round TKO (ground strikes, 4:11)

Jessica Andrade def. Marina Rodriguez via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)

Bobby Green def. Jim Miller via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-25, 29-26)

Deiveson Figueiredo def. Cody Garbrandt via second-round submission (rear naked choke, 4:02)

‘Godfather of AI’ explains why today’s artificial intelligence ‘sucks’

Yann LeCun, Meta’s chief AI scientist, is one of the three men sometimes called the godfather of artificial intelligence. But this week, he was not being especially kind about his godchild.

Machine learning sucks!” he wrote in a presentation given as part of a Meta AI event this week, referring to the technique that underpins most of what we call AI today. “I’m never happy with the state of the art,” he said; “in fact, machine learning really sucks.

“It’s wonderful. It’s brought about a lot of really interesting technologies. But really when we compare the abilities of our machines to what animals and humans can do, they don’t stack up.” Animals are able to learn quickly, find out what works and acquire human sense in a way that AI could only dream of, he said – “and I’m not talking about particularly smart animals”.

Treatment can help if gynaecological symptoms affect your daily life

“I’d had very painful, very heavy periods for a number of years and when I was about 20 my GP said, ‘let’s get you checked out’,” says Shazia.

The 40-year-old, who lives in Hertfordshire, was sent to be tested for what her GP believed was polycystic ovary syndrome – however the scan ruled this out.

“It wasn’t until I was 25 when I went back to the GP and said ‘look, something is really not right’ that I had some more tests done, and I had a year’s worth of ‘let’s try this pill, let’s try that pill’,” she says.

Shazia was subsequently diagnosed with endometriosis and has undergone three surgical procedures to treat the condition.

“I ended up with a great female GP who was well-versed in understanding endometriosis. One of the things I loved about her was whenever I’d go in after that first surgery, she was really good at going, ‘if you are concerned, you know your body better than anyone so why don’t we investigate?’ I’m really fortunate.”

Shazia’s advice to other women in a similar position is to ask for help when you feel you need it: “Always say, ‘I know my body well, these are the things that I’m experiencing, I suspect it is endometriosis.’”

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

It can affect women of any age, including teenagers, and can have a significant impact on your life and may sometimes lead to depression.

Some women are badly affected, while others might not have any noticeable symptoms.

Contact your GP practice if you have:

Karen, 56, from London, started to experience brain fog, heart palpitations and insomnia – but she wasn’t aware the symptoms pointed to early menopause.

“Menopause symptoms creep up on you and they can get muddled in with whatever’s going on in your life at the time,” she says.

“I had my second child at 38 and it was hard to untangle what was being exhausted from small kids and what was actually menopause.

“The first real symptom was insomnia, but when my daughter started sleeping it didn’t go away. Then came the mood changes, irritability and heart palpitations, which I now know are down to hormonal changes.

“At the time, I was working in a publishing company and I’d be stressed out and overwhelmed by deadlines. Because I had the Mirena coil for birth control, I wasn’t having periods so I didn’t see any change there.”

She adds: “I didn’t get hot flushes until later, so it didn’t occur to me that brain fog and poor concentration were symptoms of an early menopause. At times, I felt like it was all in my head.

“When I was 43, I was having hot flushes and that’s when I was diagnosed as post-menopausal. The GP asked if I wanted to talk about HRT, but I went off and did everything under the sun to try and manage it myself. I tried herbal supplements, homeopathic remedies and acupuncture – they all helped a little, but I still didn’t feel right.

“But when I was 50 I went back to the GP practice. I took a list of my symptoms and I’d done my research on what was available, so I had an idea of what I wanted. She was really good and I came away with [HRT just like the hormones lost during the menopause]. It felt like the missing piece.

“Now I work as a health and wellness coach helping women understand menopause and what they need to do, including good sleep, nutrition and exercise.

“If you’re feeling these symptoms, don’t despair. It might take a lot of tweaks and patience, but seeing your GP and looking after your lifestyle you can feel well again. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Period problems, gynaecological conditions and menopause symptoms are common and can significantly impact women and girls’ physical and mental health, and the ability to go about their daily life.

Don’t suffer in silence. Treatment can help if periods, menopause or gynaecological symptoms affect your daily life. Contact your GP practice or visit nhs.uk/womens-health

The Homes for Ukraine scheme is bold and right but must be better run

One of the good decisions made by Michael Gove, who as housing and communities secretary was responsible for the Homes for Ukraine scheme when it was set up two years ago, was to allow the project to be driven from the bottom up.

The scheme was an expression of solidarity from the British people to the Ukrainian people, and the role of the British government, as Mr Gove saw it, was to enable and support it – but mainly to get out of the way.

It was, and remains, an overwhelming success. More than 180,000 visas have been issued to Ukrainian refugees through the sponsorship route. The problems with the scheme, exclusively reported by The Independent, in no way undermine the policy in principle – on the contrary, they argue for improved safeguards in order to ensure continuing high levels of public support for it.

What is Labour’s policy around Britain’s nuclear deterrent?

Keir Starmer has parked his tanks on the Conservatives’ lawn again, this time taking a strong line on defence and the renewal of the British nuclear deterrent. Writing in the Daily Mail – which is about as core Tory as it gets – Starmer declared his “cast iron” promise to maintain the country’s nuclear force as a “generational, multi-decade commitment”, stating: “Not only is this about defending our land and our Nato allies, it’s also defending our economy.”

Starmer reinforced his offensive with a tactical visit to the Barrow shipyard, where the new Dreadnought-class submarines are being built, destined to carry Trident nuclear missiles through the 2030s. It’s the first such visit in three decades. In tone at least, it confirms the clean break with Labour’s recent stance on defence policy; and Starmer will be hoping that it will reassure those voters who are still nervous about whether Labour has really changed…