INDEPENDENT 2024-04-21 01:04:05


Congress finally passes $60.8B billion Ukraine aid bill

The House of Representatives finally passed aid for Ukraine on Saturday in a move that could threaten Speaker Mike Johnson’s political future.

Members voted 311-112 to pass the $60.8bn package, which the Senate had previously passed. The legislation’s successful passage elicited cheers and waving of Ukrainian flags on the House floor, as well as chants of “Slava Ukraini!” – meaning “glory to Ukraine”. Angry conservatives fumed at their colleagues after the vote, with one speaking into the mic: “Put those damn flags away!”

The money will be the latest instalment of military aid to help Ukraine defend itself against the brutal Russian invasion launched in February 2022.

Passage of the three foreign aid bills through the Senate is slated to take place on Tuesday, per Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The two other portions of the national security supplemental package, dealing with Israel and Taiwan, both passed with significant bipartisan margins. The House version of the supplemental changed the military assistance to Ukraine into a loan, a mostly failed bid to entice conservatives to get on board.

“If the hotline clears this morning, we expect to announce an agreement allowing the next vote on Tuesday, early afternoon”, said the Senate majority leader, according to Punchbowl News. Parts of the legislation were already passed by the upper chamber, making the path to the president’s desk fairly straightforward from here.

“This is not a blank check, like the Senate’s version,” Mr Johnson told reporters after the vote. “The loan system … is a House innovation.”

“I know there are critics of the legislation, I understand that,” he added. “But there is no question whatsoever that the House has made many improvements to the Senate bill, and the package we sent over there is much better.”

He also noted that Democrats forced his hand on the passage of aid to Ukraine by opposing a stand-alone bill that would have solely provided military assistance to Israel. Addressing the months of delays between the Senate’s action on the bill and the House finally passing it, he claimed that the chamber’s majority acted “as quickly” as it could have.

The real political drama in the House is expected to play out in the coming days, as conservatives are voicing frustrations over Mike Johnson’s governing style and willingness to rely on Democratic votes to pass major pieces of legislation which significant numbers of Republicans oppose. A third GOP member, Paul Gosar, on Friday signed on to the motion to oust Mr Johnson as speaker and that number may well grow after Saturday’s votes.

A number of Democrats have already indicated that they will extend a political lifeline to Mr Johnson should that happen, but the speaker’s detractors argue that Democratic support will only hasten his downfall.

“Every Democrat who walks across the aisle to try to save the Republican speaker is going to cause two or three more Republicans to join the effort because, at that point, you’re … ceding control of the House of Representatives to a contingent of Democrats,” Thomas Massie, one of the three Republicans supporting the motion to vacate, told Politico’s Playbook newsletter.

Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader, spoke to reporters on Saturday and said that his caucus would “have that conversation” about saving Mr Johnson “once the legislation is passed”.

While support for the motion to vacate is growing, even supporters of such a measure admit that ousting Speaker Mike Johnson would throw the lower chamber back into chaos. Last fall, it took Republicans more than three weeks to coalesce around a candidate after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy by a contingent of eight Republicans.

Speaking to reporters in a gaggle on the House steps on Thursday, the leader of that anti-McCarthy coalition, Matt Gaetz, said that passing a motion to vacate against Mike Johnson “could put the [GOP] conference in peril”.

There was no sign of that trigger being pulled immediately; Majority Leader Steve Scalise told reporters he did not expect Ms Greene’s motion to be put to the floor this weekend after he was seen speaking with the Georgia conservative congresswoman on the House floor.

The bill includes significant funds for what Ukraine says is its top priority: the resupply of air defence missiles and other armaments it says have been depleted responding to Russian attacks, resulting in greater casualties.

President Joe Biden celebrated passage of the legislation in a statement shortly after the votes concluded.

“Today, members of both parties in the House voted to advance our national security interests and send a clear message about the power of American leadership on the world stage. At this critical inflection point, they came together to answer history’s call, passing urgently-needed national security legislation that I have fought for months to secure,” said the president.

“I want to thank Speaker Johnson, Leader Jeffries, and the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House who voted to put our national security first. I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs.”

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, who had lobbied Congress personally on the legislation including in a rare trip to Washington, also thanked US lawmakers after the news broke.

One piece of ride-along immigration legislation containing several of the GOP’s priorities outlined in the hardline H.R. 2 bill separately died separately in the House on Saturday. It required two-thirds of the chamber for passage, a side effect of passing it under suspension of the chamber’s rules. Just a handful of Democrats supported it.

Legislation passed on Saturday dealing with a wider range of issues including sanctions on Iran and Russia may also require tinkering due to the provision forcing the sale of TikTok, though President Joe Biden has come out in support of that specific provision and it may end up receiving sufficient bipartisan support. The second ride-along bill passed with a vote of 360-58. A previous bill forcing the sale of TikTok passed in March, but has since stalled in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had long pressured the House to pass the Senate-passed supplemental bill as lawmakers in the lower chamber debated and ultimately separated the legislation into three parts.

“Today’s action moves this critical national security supplemental one step closer to helping America and our friends to meet the most dangerous array of threats in a generation,” said the Senate GOP leader. “From the battlefields of Ukraine to the cities and kibbutzes of Israel, and from the Red Sea to the South China Sea, our adversaries are colluding to violently undermine America, our allies, and our global interests.”

What’s in the full foreign aid package passed by the House:

Three pieces of legislation that were part of the national security supplemental passed by the Senate, as well as one piece of sidecar legislation dealing with Russia/Iran sanctions, passed the House on Saturday. Combined, they will provide tens of billions of dollars in security and military assistance to US allies in three regions.

Ukraine

The Ukraine portion of the bill is the largest. $60.8bn is earmarked for Ukraine in the bills passed on Saturday, with much being targeted to resupply vital air defences for the Ukrainian military. A Republican amendment to strip all non-defence spending from the bill failed.

Of the defence spending in the bill, $23bn is set aside to replenish US stockpiles drawn down by the effort to supply Ukraine, while another $11bn would support current US operations in eastern Europe. Nearly $14bn was targeted to help Ukraine purchase advanced weapon and defence systems.

A relatively smaller amount, $26m, was supplied to provide oversight efforts to ensure that US contributions to Ukraine are being disbursed correctly and fairly.

Israel

Much of the $26.38bn Israel bill is centred around restocking Israeli munitions required for its defences as well as the siege of Gaza, where Israel is attempting to wipe out Hamas militants. $4bn is included for resupplying the Iron Dome defensive grid, and $1.2bn is include for the so-called “Iron Beam”, a ground-based laser system used to take out drones and missiles.

$3.5bn is set aside to help Israel procure weapon systems, while nearly $7bn is marked for restocking US supplies and funding operations in the region.

Indo-Pacific

One last segment of the foreign aid package deals with Taiwan and other US allies in the Indo-Pacific region such as the Philippines. This smaller ($8.12bn) bill sets aside $3.3bn for the construction of submarine port infrastructure around the Indo-Pacific and includes roughly $4bn in assistance to Taiwan and regional military partners of the US. Just over a half billion is also provided to directly strengthen US military assets in the region.

Labour plots new campaign to win over Tory-supporting pensioners

Labour is plotting a new campaign to win over Tory-supporting pensioners in a move aimed at wiping out one of the government’s few remaining electoral strengths.

It comes as evidence shows the Conservatives are currently performing as badly among the demographic as the party was under former prime minister Liz Truss, who lasted a mere 49 days in office before she was forced out.

With local elections in England coming up in less than two weeks, The Observer reported Sir Keir Starmer’s top officials are understood to be refocusing their campaign after noticing pensioners’ growing concern over how a Tory tax-cutting pledge might hit pensions and the NHS.

The change in approach – involving a national media and targeted digital advertising campaign from Sunday – comes after the chancellor signalled employee national insurance contributions would eventually be scrapped, with Labour claiming the decision would cost around £46bn per year.

The results of a private focus group run by Sir Keir’s party this week led its most senior officials to believe Jeremy Hunt had made a mistake with his announcement, with older voters fearful of the impact of the removal of national insurance on the struggling health service.

Insiders told The Observer that the move was being compared to Ms Truss’s doomed proposal for £45bn in unfunded tax cuts by “pensioner hero voters”, a group who previously supported the Tories but are considering a switch to Labour.

An internal memo written by Labour’s strategy chief Deborah Mattinson said: “Their primary concern is that it is a huge unfunded spending commitment. The unfunded commitment raises alarm bells and leads voters to spontaneously make comparisons to Truss’s mini-Budget.

“Beyond this, they recognise the high risk to the future of the state pension – with some worrying it won’t be around for their children/grandchildren. This gives Labour its biggest opportunity with pensioners for some time.”

The one group for which the Tories lead Labour is the over-65s, and then only by six points, according to the most recent Opinium poll for The Observer. And the 35 per cent support the Conservatives currently enjoy among the demographic is still four percentage points lower than in the poll taken before Ms Truss’s resignation.

An agreement to focus the final weeks of the local election campaign on targeting the over-65s over this issue was reached at a campaign meeting on Wednesday.

A memo issued to the shadow cabinet by Pat McFadden, the veteran MP preparing Labour’s election campaign, read: “This is a crucial moment for our local and general election campaigns. We know from our strategy and insights team that voters share this concern. Scrutinising the Conservatives’ £46bn plan will be a central line of our attack.”

It comes as, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Labour leader accused the Tories of denigrating “some of our proudest national institutions” and lacking faith in the strength of British identity to “withstand discussion”, as he laid claim to the mantle of “the patriotic party”.

In an opinion piece published in the run-up to St George’s Day on Tuesday, Sir Keir spoke of his “pride and gratitude” at being English, saying Labour was “at its best when it has celebrated, defended and served the values of our country and its people” and promised to “always put country above party”.

Asking whether the Conservative Party was “really capable of serving anything other than itself”, he said: “I don’t think so.”

Adding: “In fact, frankly, when you’ve trashed the economy, hammered mortgage holders, weakened the union, neglected our forces, repeatedly broken laws you expected others to follow and denigrated some of our proudest national institutions, from the BBC to the National Trust to the England football team, I’m afraid you have lost any right to call yourself a patriotic party.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “We are cutting national insurance contributions again for 29 million working people to end the unfairness of double taxation on work and making sure being in work pays. Our long-term ambition is to abolish it entirely, which we cannot do overnight and will only do in a fiscally responsible way, without compromising high-quality public services.

“Labour, on the other hand, have pledged to deliver a commitment they’ve costed at £28bn by 2030, which would create a huge black hole in the nation’s finances.”

The Independent has approached the Conservative Party for further comment.

Chelsea waste FA Cup chance as Jackson lets Man City off the hook

Death, taxes and Wembley woe for Chelsea. Sorry, Mr Jackson, but you need to apologise a trillion times for this one. This is on you.

A bruised and battered Manchester City were there for the taking, just as Liverpool were on the ropes two months ago. Once again, Chelsea weren’t just creating good chances but gilt-edged, match-deciding ones, with regularity.

Yet somehow, just as Liverpool escaped with a last-gasp winner in February’s Carabao Cup final heartache, against the run of play, Bernardo Silva stole in at the back post six minutes from time to send the FA Cup holders through to next month’s showpiece and keep City’s domestic double hopes alive.

For Chelsea and Nicolas Jackson particularly, their comedic season of woe that Amazon will be rueing the day they hadn’t sent their cameras along to capture is showing no sign of abating.

Getting to this stage of the competition has been a cakewalk for City in the Guardiola years, but the last four has been the madcap Catalan’s nemesis, compared to his all-conquering league and League Cup record.

From his previous six semi-finals in charge of City, Guardiola has only been able to guide his side to the final on two occasions, with three of their four last-four losses coming against London clubs.

So, you’d think, having seen his side mentally and physically ground down by an attritional Real Madrid in midweek, in a competition that gave him one of the “greatest days of his career” in last season’s final victory over Manchester United, the overthinking City boss would have shuffled his pack, deploying midfielders in defensive roles and vice versa, just to freshen up his weary troops.

Remarkably, with Erling Haaland’s absence through injury unavoidable, Guardiola made just three, like-for-like switches. And it showed, with City looking sluggish in the extreme. Had Haaland been presented with the openings Jackson wasted, the dark blues would have been out of sight by the 50th minute.

With Kyle Walker plodding around with lead in his boots from the off, man of the moment Cole Palmer was able to pick up the pockets of space Guardiola’s system thrives upon. The City academy graduate slid the ball across for Jackson, who fired straight at Stefan Ortega: a sign of things to come.

It only got worse for Jackson from there on in. His first slapstick comedy sketch came as he burst clean through, on the end of an Enzo Fernandez through pass: somehow, with only Ortega to beat, he didn’t even muster a shot at goal, rounding Ortega and turning back before his pullback was intercepted. A player ostensibly shorn of confidence.

Phil Foden also managed to skip around Chelsea goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic down the other end early on but he was forced too wide, enabling Marc Cucurella to head Foden’s hook towards goal clear.

That was as good as it got for City in a poor first-half display. Normally the beating heart of the unrelenting City beast, De Bruyne lacked fire, his main first-half contribution being a deflection on a goal-bound Julian Alvarez strike that looped over the top.

Back to the Roast of Nicolas Jackson. Once again, the Senegalese striker was played in and clear of the City strugglers just after the break, but his shot was more befitting the FA Trophy, with his header from a pinpoint Palmer pickout seconds later even worse.

While City players remained laboured, they still possessed enough quality to retain a goal threat standing still, Foden sweeping an effort for goal that was well saved before substitute Jeremy Doku was denied by Petrovic’s legs.

The holders just didn’t look like they had a winner, or an attack of note, in them, even as Guardiola rang the changes. But this is Chelsea, nothing is as it seems.

Silva’s strike six minutes from time was scrappy in the extreme, with Petrovic’s foot diverting a De Bruyne cross into the Portuguese’s path, but Guardiola won’t care one bit, days after a defeat that could have done serious damage to City’s hopes of another trophy-laden campaign.

How they remain in with a chance of a domestic double will give Mauricio Pochettino and his frontline striker many more sleepless nights in the weeks to come.

Thousands take to streets in Tenerife to protest against mass tourism

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Spain‘s Canary Islands to protest against mass tourism.

Demonstrators were on Saturday calling for Tenerife to temporarily limit tourist arrivals to stem a boom in short-term holiday rentals and hotel construction that is driving up housing costs for locals.

Holding placards reading “People live here” and “We don’t want to see our island die”, campaigners said changes must be made to the tourism industry that accounts for 35 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Canary Islands archipelago.

“It’s not a message against the tourist, but against a tourism model that doesn’t benefit this land and needs to be changed,” one of the protesters said during the march in Tenerife’s capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Smaller marches were held elsewhere in the island group and other Spanish cities, all of them organised by about two dozen environmental organisations ahead of the peak summer holiday season.

The organisations say local authorities should temporarily limit visitor numbers to alleviate pressure on the islands’ environment, infrastructure and housing stock, and put curbs on property purchases by foreigners.

“The authorities must immediately stop this corrupt and destructive model that depletes the resources and makes the economy more precarious. The Canary Islands have limits and people’s patience too,” said Antonio Bullon, one of the protest leaders.

The archipelago of 2.2 million people was visited by nearly 14 million foreign tourists in 2023, up 13 per cent from the previous year, according to official data.

Authorities in the islands are concerned about the impact on locals.

A draft law expected to pass this year toughening the rules on short lets follows complaints from residents priced out of the housing market.

Canary Islands president Fernando Clavijo said on Friday he felt “proud” that the region was a leading Spanish tourist destination, but acknowledged that more controls were needed as the sector continues to grow.

“We can’t keep looking away. Otherwise, hotels will continue to open without any control,” he told a press conference.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Garcia vs Haney LIVE: Latest fight updates, start time and results

Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia will meet in a controversial fight this evening, with some fans and pundits arguing that the bout should have been called off.

Garcia’s behaviour out of the ring has raised concerns over his mental health, and the 25-year-old’s failed weigh-in on Friday only heightened beliefs that he may struggle badly against Haney.

Haney, also 25, went 3-3 against Garcia during the Americans’ amateur days, but the “Dream” has surged ahead of Garcia as a professional. The unbeaten Haney reigned as undisputed lightweight champion before vacating those belts late last year, and going on to take the WBC super-lightweight title from Regis Prograis in December.

That belt was due to be defended tonight, but Garcia’s three-pound weight miss has made him ineligible to win the gold. Per a bet made by Garcia, the would-be challenger must also pay Haney $500,000 for each pound overweight.

Follow live updates and results from Haney vs Garcia and the undercard, below. Purchase a DAZN subscription here, with plans starting at £9.99 per month. We may earn commission from some of the links in this article, but we never allow this to influence our content. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

From reefs to rainforests: A nature-lover’s guide to Queensland

From the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet to iridescent everglades, striking marine life and dramatic mountain peaks, Queensland is a paradise for anyone into nature and wildlife. We’ve put together a guide to the best natural spots to visit in each region, with help from the experts at Travelbag, who are on hand to make your dream holiday happen.

Queensland’s vibrant capital, Brisbane offers plenty to lure urbanites with its galleries, museums and restaurants, and it doesn’t fall short on the nature front either.

For an especially tranquil spot, head to the city’s Botanic Gardens, set just outside the centre and home to the biggest collection of Australian native rainforest trees in the world (entry is free). If you fancy getting up close and personal with the local wildlife, swing by the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – home to a koala research centre alongside various experiences, from wildlife encounters to a Nocturnal Twilight Tour.

Beyond the city itself, you’ll find plenty more to explore; for one of the most jaw-dropping spots, head to the Scenic Rim, a dramatic caldera landscape scattered with soaring peaks, lush valleys and scenic bushwalking trails.

The Gold Coast might be best-known for its beaches, nightlife and family-friendly fun, but as the gateway to several national parks, it’s also a dream for nature-lovers. It’s here you’ll find Lamington National Park and Springbrook National Park – both part of the Unesco-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, the biggest subtropical rainforest on the planet. Hiking trails lace these tree-carpeted landscapes, with waterfalls, mountains and lush flora for scenery.

Elsewhere, venture to Burleigh Heads National Park to amble between scenic coastline and emerald rainforest, and come between July and October to spot migrating whales as they pass the famous ‘Humpback Highway’.

Just north of Brisbane sits the Sunshine Coast – an idyllic stretch lined with sugary beaches and cerulean sea, and the home of laid-back surf town Noosa.

Among the myriad natural charms here you’ll find the Noosa Everglades – one of only two everglades systems in the world, tucked within a sprawling UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Nicknamed the ‘river of mirrors’, this network of waterways, tea tree forests and wetlands is home to 40% of Australia’s bird species, with canoe and kayak tours available if you want to see its wildlife from the water.

It’s not just the everglades worth a visit here, though. In the wider Great Sandy National Park, you’ll find hidden-away beaches, tumbling sand dunes and sprawling rainforests – best explored by 4×4 – while elsewhere in the hinterlands lie the Glass House Mountains, a cluster of volcanic, craggy peaks offering excellent hiking and exceptional views.

Much of Queensland’s charm lies beneath the surface, of course, and if you’re looking to explore the region’s colourful marine life, the Whitsunday Islands should be high on your list.

There are plenty of options for sailing trips here, with key spots including the talcum-sand Whitehaven Beach and paradise-worthy Hamilton Island. Book a Whitehaven Camira Sailing Adventure to explore the first, or if you fancy getting properly back to nature, opt for the two-day Reeflseep, which combines snorkelling and optional diving with dinner and a night sleeping under the stars.

There’s more in the way of world-class snorkelling and diving in Cairns – the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, where dwarf minke whales, manta rays, turtles and groupers inhabit the surrounding waters.

But it’s not only about the marine life here – two hours away sits the Daintree Rainforest; the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, believed to date back around 180 million years. Saltwater crocodiles, kaleidoscopic butterflies and an array of tropical birds inhabit this ancient landscape, with waterfalls, creeks and swimming holes hidden among the trees.

Head out on a riverboat cruise to take it all in, or book an indigenous-led tour to learn more about the Daintree’s Aboriginal people; this vast, heritage-filled wilderness is Australia at its most quintessential, and a perfect symbol of Queensland’s striking diversity.

Book it: Combine Queensland’s natural highlights on Travelbag’s Queensland Ocean & Rainforest Experience, or get in touch with Travelbag’s experts for a private, tailor-made trip to suit.

Could we be heading for a winter general election?

The local elections on 2 May were going to spell the end for Rishi Sunak, according to the handful of plotters against him among Conservative MPs. They warned that he might even call a general election to forestall a leadership challenge.

Now some of the prime minister’s own people are speculating that he might call a general election after 2 May for the opposite reason – not because the results will be disastrous, but because they will be surprisingly good. If Andy Street, the Tory mayor of the West Midlands, and Ben Houchen, the Tory mayor of Tees Valley, are re-elected, the argument goes, Sunak should cash in on the good news before the inevitable attrition of events resumes.

“You have the ­element of surprise while, if you wait until the autumn, you’ve basically boxed yourself in and allow Labour to attack you for hanging on,” a Downing Street source told The Times.

Before we come to whether or not this is a persuasive argument, however, we need to assess the chances of Sunak being able to claim the local elections as a good result for the Conservatives.

In my view, most of the elections to be held on 2 May are a write-off for the Tories. They will lose a lot of local council seats and the BBC will calculate a low “projected national share” of the vote – although it won’t be as low as it could be, because Reform, the former Brexit Party, is contesting only one seat in seven. Most of these seats were last contested in 2021, when Boris Johnson was riding the vaccine bounce and Labour lost its safe Hartlepool seat in a parliamentary by-election.

There will be a by-election at the same time as the local elections this time, too, but Labour’s Chris Webb is so certain to win Tory-held Blackpool South that the party is sending its resources elsewhere.

Susan Hall, the Tory candidate for mayor of London, will lose badly to Sadiq Khan, although not as badly as London’s current status as a Labour city would suggest.

There are three contests to watch elsewhere: Street in the West Midlands, Ben Houchen in Tees Valley, and Jamie Driscoll, the independent (formerly Labour) mayor of North of Tyne, who is running for the new, bigger mayoralty of the North East.

Opinion polls published in the past few days have suggested that Street and Houchen can win – Street was 14 points behind in one poll, two points ahead in another; Houchen was tied with Chris McEwan, his Labour opponent, in the only representative poll so far in Tees Valley.

Street is campaigning in green and purple colours, with little Conservative branding, proving that an independent-minded mayor with good name recognition can buck the national trend. (Before Labour partisans accuse him of being embarrassed by his party, they should note that Andy Burnham is running for re-election in Greater Manchester as “Andy”, without any Labour branding.)

Street’s slogan, “Lots Done, More To Do…”, is an example, borrowed from Tony Blair in 2001, of the kind of campaign that Sunak wanted to run in the general election, had he not been weighed down by the 14-year Tory record and the ill-judged five promises he made last year.

Even so, if Street and Houchen win, it will suggest there is some life in the Tory parrot yet. And if Driscoll wins in the North East, it will make the case that support for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is lukewarm – more an anti-Tory reflex than a positive vote for change. Driscoll is a soft Corbynite who was excluded without explanation by Labour HQ from running as the official Labour candidate for the new mayoralty.

These are the kind of arguments that I believe Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, is urging Sunak to consider. If the Tees Valley result on Friday and the West Midlands result on Saturday are Tory wins, the prime minister could make an announcement on Tuesday (Monday is the early May bank holiday), dissolve parliament on Wednesday and hold an election on 13 June.

This would probably mean not waiting for Rwanda flights to take off; it would contradict Sunak’s “working assumption” that the election would be in the second half of the year; but it would seize the initiative and, with luck, cut short more months of the equivalent of stories of Tory MPs phoning elderly aides at 3am to ask for large sums of money to pay off “bad people”.

Above all, it would cut short the endless speculation about the election date, which will otherwise drag on, adding to the impression that Sunak is dithering, and giving Labour more time to accuse him of “squatting” in Downing Street.

All the same, I don’t think it will happen. I have no inside knowledge – and nor, ultimately, does anyone else, because Sunak hasn’t decided yet. But I think the forces acting upon him tend towards delay. Prime ministers tend not to give up power before they have to, with the recent exceptions of Harold Wilson, Tony Blair and Theresa May. But each of those cases was very different from Sunak’s today.

It is rumoured that Akshata, Sunak’s wife, is keen to get out of No 10. That is not what it looks like from her Instagram or from the No 10 Flickr account, both full of photos of her hyperactive charitable activities in Downing Street.

Of course it is possible, as the gloomy Dowden fears, that things will go on getting worse. That if the Rwanda flights take off the small boats will keep coming; that more money in voters’ pockets will simply lead them to think they can afford a Labour government; that Nigel Farage and Reform will continue to syphon away core Tory votes.

But we should remember the personality type that goes into politics. As Matthew Parris writes of the risk-taking that led him, as an MP, to cruise for sex on Clapham Common: “People who want to be MPs have an enlarged appetite for status, fame and applause, an exaggerated belief in their own chances, and a stunted appreciation of risk.”

Sunak is obviously no risk-taker in his private life, but he certainly has an “exaggerated belief” in his own chances. He thinks that he, and he alone, can turn things round if he is just given time.

So I don’t think there will be an election in June or July. The next likely date, after a pre-election Budget, would be 10 October. But the prime minister is just as likely to go for 14 November, or 12 December, which would be exactly five years after the last election.

Keir Starmer should back the EU youth mobility scheme

Rishi Sunak has rejected the surprise proposal from Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, for a youth mobility scheme that would make it easier for young Britons to live, study and work in the EU.

Ms Von der Leyen said on Thursday that the commission would seek permission from EU member states to open negotiations for a scheme allowing UK citizens aged 18-30 to come to the EU, and EU young people to come to the UK.

The scheme would continue to exclude the UK from EU freedom of movement rules, requiring a visa, evidence of sufficient funds to sustain a living, and health insurance.