INDEPENDENT 2024-04-24 16:06:20


Rayner and Dowden clash at fiery PMQs as Sunak branded a ‘pint-sized loser’

Angela Rayner branded Rishi Sunak a “pint-sized loser” during a fiery session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

Labour’s deputy leader used the session to tackle the government on its housing record, accusing ministers of delaying justice on no-fault evictions in the rented sector.

She also accused Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, of having “stabbed” the Tories’ “biggest election winner” Boris Johnson in the back in order to get his “mate into No 10”.

“Has he finally realised that when he stabbed Boris Johnson in the back to get his mate into No 10 he was ditching their biggest election winner for a pint-sized loser?” she told MPs in the Commons, following reports that Mr Dowden was among senior Tories call for a summer election.

Elsewhere, the prime minister is on a visit to Germany. He held a joint press conference with chancellor Olfa Scholz, where he praised Germany for increasing defence spending.

Two Premier League players arrested over allegation of rape

Two Premier League players have been arrested in relation to an allegation of rape.

Police revealed two 19-year-old men were arrested at the weekend after a report of a rape was made to them last Friday (April 19).

The first man was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of aiding and abetting a rape, while a second man was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of rape, police said.

Reports claim one of the players was at his club’s football stadium when officers arrived. He is said to have been spoken to at the stadium before he was arrested later that night.

Both players, believed to be from the same club, have since been released on police bail.

“Officers have arrested two men following a report of a rape,” a police spokesperson told the BBC.

“A 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assault and aiding and abetting a rape. A second 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of rape.

“Both men have since been released on police bail.”

It is not known if the two arrested players have been suspended over the alleged attack, which is said to have taken place on Friday.

A spokesman for the football club in question declined to comment on the police investigation.

A spokesman told The Sun: “As the matter is now in the hands of the police, the club will not be making further comment at this stage.”

The players and their club cannot be identified for legal reasons.

More follows on this breaking news story….

Three arrested over migrant Channel deaths

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences after five migrants including a child died while trying to cross the Channel.

The National Crime Agency said investigators are questioning two men from Sudan, aged 19 and 22, and a third 22-year-old suspect from south Sudan over the tragedy. They were arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration and entering the UK illegally.

The 55 surviving boat passengers have already been interviewed and are expected to be spoken to further in the coming days.

Craig Turner, deputy director of investigations for the National Crime Agency, said: “This tragic incident once again demonstrates the threat to life posed by these crossings and brings into focus why it is so important to target the criminal gangs involved in organising them.

“We will do all we can with partners in the UK and France to secure evidence, identify those responsible for this event, and bring them to justice.”

More than 400 migrants arrived in the UK on the day the group died.

The crossings took place as the tragedy off the coast of northern France unfolded, just hours after Parliament passed legislation aimed at getting the Government’s plan to give asylum seekers a one-way ticket to Rwanda off the ground.

A dinghy carrying more than 100 people set off from Wimereux at around 6am on Tuesday but got into difficulty. Three men, a woman and a girl died, according to the French coastguard.

Some 49 people were rescued but 58 others refused to leave the boat and continued their journey towards the UK, the coastguard said in a statement, with several other boats later embarking on the crossing.

Home Office figures show 402 people made the journey in seven boats that same day after an eight-day break in activity in the Channel, which suggests there was an average of around 57 people per boat.

Young children and babies were among those seen being taken ashore in Dover, Kent, while witnesses saw crews carrying someone on a stretcher from a lifeboat to an ambulance.

The latest crossings take the provisional total for the year so far to 6,667 – 20% higher than this time last year (5,546) but slightly lower (down 0.4%) than the figure recorded at this stage in 2022 (6,691).

Some 29,437 people made the journey in 2023, down 36% on a record 45,774 arrivals in 2022.

Campaigners said the Rwanda plan will not save lives as they lamented the news of more deaths due to the treacherous journey and called for the Channel not to become a graveyard for children.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the incident underscores the need for the deterrent the Government hopes sending migrants to the east African nation if they arrive illegally in the UK will bring.

The National Crime Agency said it will be supporting the French investigation into the deaths with UK police and Border Force.

Farewell Frank Field, an awkward bloody-minded outsider until the end

“I’m still here – I didn’t expect to be,” Frank Field told me with a smile, just before Christmas, when I asked him how he was.

Even when he was dying of cancer, he could joke about it. The private man was very different to the dour, ascetic public exterior of the former Labour minister and lifelong campaigner on poverty and welfare reform, who has died aged 81.

To say that Field wasn’t a conventional politician is an understatement. During his 60 years in the Labour Party, he was an honorary independent, never afraid to speak his mind. Tony Blair labelled him “a bit awkward” but that was the whole point of him. David Blunkett, the former Labour cabinet minister, got it right today, calling him a “loveable maverick, a one-off”.

UK accused of ‘helping Moscow pay for war’ as US to send Kyiv weapons

The UK has been accused of helping Moscow “pay for its war” in Ukraine by importing record amounts of refined oil from countries processing Russian fossil fuels.

British imports of refined oil from India, China and Turkey – which Russia exports crude oil to – amounted to £2.2bn in 2023, up from £434.2m in 2021, according to environmental news website Desmog.

Lela Stanley, a senior investigator at Global Witness, said: “Millions of barrels of fuel made from Russian oil continue to pour into the UK. Make no mistake: until the government closes this loophole, Britain is helping Russia pay for its war on Ukraine.”

It comes as US president Joe Biden said he would sign the bill into law immediately and America would start sending weapons to Kyiv this week.

“I will sign this bill into law and address the American people as soon as it reaches my desk tomorrow so we can begin sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine this week,” he said.

The bill included £49bn in military aid for Ukraine, which the Pentagon says can start being delivered to the war-torn nation within days. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the legislation into law on Wednesday.

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.

How will new voting rules affect the local elections?

The Elections Act 2022 made two important changes to voting in Great Britain. These came into effect last year, but there will be millions of voters who will come across the new rules for the first time in the local elections next week.

The first change is the requirement to show an approved form of photo identification at the polling station. This has long been required in Northern Ireland, but is now the law in the rest of the UK, and will be a requirement at the coming general election, which must be held by January next year.

The other change is the end of the supplementary vote system in mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections. People used to have two votes in these elections, a first preference and a second preference. Now we have a single vote, as in parliamentary and local council elections, and the candidate with the most votes wins – there are no second preferences for eliminated candidates to count, even if the winner secures fewer than 50 per cent of the votes.

Let this tragedy in the Channel be the death knell of the Rwanda bill

We should start by seeing the latest tragedy in the Channel through the eyes of the victims, in order to understand what drives people to take such risks on unseaworthy dinghies. It should be obvious that such people are not going to be deterred by the remote prospect of being removed to Rwanda.

So when the prime minister talks about “compassion”, we can accept that his policy would be compassionate if it worked. But it is not going to work. Indeed, it is unlikely even to be given the chance, because the Labour Party has promised to stop the flights, even if they have started by the time it forms the next government. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, confirmed on Tuesday that the removals will cease immediately if Labour is elected.

We suspect that Rishi Sunak knows the Rwanda policy will not work, but wants the flights to take off before the election to give him a dividing line.