The Telegraph 2024-05-03 01:00:45

Live Local election results live: First councils declared as Tories fear ‘difficult’ night

The first results are coming are in for the 2024 local and mayoral elections which are a major test for Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer before the general election.

The future of Mr Sunak’s premiership could hinge on whether Andy Street and Ben Houchen, the Tory mayors of the West Midlands and Tees Valley respectively, can defy the national picture and achieve another term in power.

Meanwhile ‌Sadiq Khan is seeking re-election to City Hall as he hopes to achieve a historic third term as Mayor of London.

His main rival is Tory challenger Susan Hall, whose campaign has centred on rising crime rates under Mr Khan and his expansion of the ultra-low emissions zone (Ulez).

The Conservatives and Labour are defending just under 1,000 councillors each and projections by election experts Rallings and Thrasher suggest the Tories could lose as many as half of their councillors up for re-election.

Votes are also being counted in the Blackpool South by-election. The Tories are defending the ‘Red Wall’ seat in Lancashire, which they won for the first time in almost three decades in 2019, after Scott Benton stepped down in the wake of a lobbying scandal.

Follow the latest updates below – and have your say in the comments

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Sunak to offer Ireland chance to join Rwanda scheme

Downing Street has offered Ireland the opportunity to join the Rwanda scheme, amid a row over asylum seekers fleeing the UK to the Republic.

No 10 said it was open to exploring Ireland’s participation in the scheme after Irish ministers blamed the deterrent effect of deportation to Rwanda for the surge in asylum seekers arriving in Dublin from Britain.

Rishi Sunak has rejected demands by Simon Harris, the Irish prime minister, to take back the asylum seekers, unless the EU agrees to receive migrants who have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel.

However, a Downing Street source said: “If the Irish government believes the Rwanda plan is already having an effect, we can explore Ireland joining the Rwanda scheme. Many countries are looking at a third country now, which is why Sir Keir Starmer’s amnesty for 115,000 illegal immigrants a year is so shortsighted.”

Mr Sunak is relying on the Rwanda scheme to stop the flow of migrants across the Channel, and has made the policy a key dividing line with Labour, which says it would axe the scheme. At least 100 migrants earmarked to be sent to Rwanda have already been detained. 

However, new figures revealed a record 711 migrants crossed the Channel on Wednesday, the highest number on a single day this year. It takes this year’s total to 8,278, up 34 per cent on the same point last year.

It comes as there were protests in London over the treatment of asylum seekers, with the Home Office forced to postpone the transfer of migrants from a hotel to the Bibby Stockholm barge after protesters disrupted their removal and slashed a coach’s wheels.

Downing Street is braced for criticism of Mr Sunak’s leadership following the results of Thursday’s local elections, which are expected to show heavy Tory party losses.

The Anglo-Irish row intensified on Wednesday after the Irish proposed redeploying 100 officers to the border area to stop asylum seekers entering from the UK. Irish ministers have said that up to 90 per cent of asylum seekers who have entered the Republic this year came across the northern border.

Tensions over immigration are high in Ireland, a country of about 5.1 million people, which is struggling with a housing crisis and has welcomed more than 104,000 Ukrainian refugees since Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion.

More than 6,000 people had applied for asylum in Ireland by April 12 this year alone. If that rate continues, Ireland would have a record number of more than 20,000 asylum claims by the end of 2024. The previous record was 13,000 in 2004.

On Thursday, it emerged that, amid the crisis, Irish ministers are considering making further cuts to support and benefits for Ukrainian refugees.

Ireland has a special legal right to opt out of EU migration and immigration rules, like Denmark, which has held talks with Rwanda about sending migrants to the east African state to have their asylum claims processed there.

No 10 sources confirmed Mr Sunak was working on a “statement of intent” with like-minded countries such as Italy and Denmark to explore “alternative and untested” schemes that would act as a deterrent to migrants. This includes deals where migrants’ claims are processed in third countries.

Both Mr Sunak and Mr Harris have claimed the apparent increase in migrants crossing to Ireland from the UK is evidence that even the threat of deportation to Rwanda is acting as a deterrent. Asylum seekers interviewed in Dublin by The Telegraph this week cited the prospect of removal to Rwanda as their reason for fleeing the UK.

Mr Harris has ordered his justice ministry to bring forward new legislation to declare the UK a “safe” third country for asylum seekers, overturning an Irish high court judgment that ruled the UK was “unsafe” because of the risk of migrants being sent to Rwanda.

The new law – which mirrors Mr Sunak’s own Safety of Rwanda Act – is designed to remove the legal block that would prevent asylum seekers being sent back to the UK, despite Mr Sunak’s refusal to accept them.

Despite acknowledging the deterrent effect of Rwanda, Irish ministers have, however, been dismissive of the scheme. “I’ve been listening to Rwanda now for three years. We’re now talking about one person going there,” said Micheál Martin, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, referring to the voluntary removal of a migrant to Rwanda on Tuesday.

The Irish government has been contacted for comment but Hermann Kelly, president of the Irish Freedom Party, said: “If a flight to Rwanda, or even a boat trip to Iceland acts as a deterrent, those proposals should certainly be examined and quickly.”

The UK Government is gearing up for multiple legal challenges to its Rwanda legislation from detained migrants as well as civil service unions.

The Telegraph can reveal that at least 100 migrants earmarked for deportation to Rwanda have been detained since Monday. They are being put in contact with lawyers to seek bail and challenge their removal, according to charities specialising in immigration detention.

The charity Care4Calais said it had been contacted by 90 asylum seekers earmarked for deportation to Rwanda who have been detained this week in nationwide raids and operations by immigration enforcement officers. Another charity, BID, said it had been contacted by eight prospective deportees.

They will be put in contact with lawyers who will seek bail from immigration detention ahead of the flights in nine to 11 weeks and prepare legal challenges on the basis that they could be at risk of “serious and irreversible harm” if removed to Rwanda.

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents Border Force and immigration officers, is considering following the First Division Association in taking legal action over the Rwanda plan.

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Families of people who died after Covid vaccination abandon attempt to sue AstraZeneca

Families whose loved ones died after taking the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine have abandoned attempts to sue the pharmaceutical giant after being told that they were likely to lose.

Gareth Eve and other families whose relatives were harmed after having the jab have pulled out of the High Court case after being told that they would be unlikely to succeed with their claims because a leaflet issued at the height of the pandemic warned of a rare side effect associated with the vaccine.

The document, given out at vaccination centres, said that “extremely rare cases of blood clots with low levels of platelets have been observed following vaccination with Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca”.

Legal experts believe that this could potentially protect the pharmaceutical firm against cases brought by families whose relatives were given a dose supplied after April 7 2021.

In total, 12 families have now dropped out of the legal action.

More than 50 are still suing the pharmaceutical giant in the High Court, however, because their vaccines were supplied before the warning about blood clots was added to the patient safety leaflets.

Mr Eve, whose wife, Lisa Shaw, died in May 2021 after having the jab, said he felt it was “unjust” that families like his could not continue.

“It’s like the Government and AstraZeneca have wriggled off the hook on a technicality when you just think, ‘come on, what is the right thing to do here?’

“In my opinion, there is a battle here that needs to be had, but I’m not even able to do that anymore”, he told The Telegraph.

“If I didn’t remove my name from the legal action, I wouldn’t be covered by the insurance. I could be liable for the drug company’s costs, which could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

He said he felt “utterly bereft”.

After abandoning his legal claim against AstraZeneca, Mr Eve said the £120,000 compensation offered by the Government was insufficient and called for ministers and the drugs company to “sit down and have a conversation” with families like his.

“AstraZeneca and the Government might not have a legal obligation to support us, but they have a moral responsibility”, he said.

Independent studies show the AstraZeneca vaccine was effective in tackling the pandemic, saving more than six million lives globally in the first year of the rollout.

The World Health Organisation has said the vaccine was “safe and effective for all individuals aged 18 and above” and the adverse effect that has prompted the legal action was “very rare”.

The pharmaceutical giant is being sued in a class action over claims its vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, caused death and serious injury in dozens of cases.

Lawyers argue the vaccine produced a side-effect that has had a devastating effect on a small number of families. AstraZeneca is contesting the claims.

The Government has indemnified AstraZeneca against any legal action but it has so far refused to intervene.

The first case was lodged last year by Jamie Scott, a father of two, who was left with a permanent brain injury after developing a blood clot and a bleed on the brain that has prevented him from working after he received the vaccine in April 2021.

On Thursday, his wife, Kate, said, “This could have been any of us. We will continue fighting to ensure every family – regardless of the date the vaccine caused death and injury – get justice”.

Sarah Moore, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, who is bringing the legal claims, said: “We feel desperately sorry for Gareth and the other families affected.

“These cases should not have to be fought through the courts. If there was a functioning support scheme, then litigation wouldn’t be necessary”.

Mrs Shaw was 44 when she died and the couple’s son, Zach, was only six years old.

A coroner has ruled that she died owing to complications from the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

Mr Eve successfully applied for financial support under the Vaccine Damage Compensation Scheme (VDPS), which entitles people who have been severely injured, or the families of those who have died, to receive a one-off payment of £120,000, but he said that he felt the scheme was “not fit for purpose” and needed to be reformed.

“Zach is going to have to grow up for the rest of his life without a mother.  Losing your wife, it turns your life completely upside down, you have to start again”, he said.

He said it felt like the drug company was “passing the buck” if it was going to defend the claim by saying patients were warned in information leaflets.

“I understand some of the terminology in the documents which were released, because that’s the things that killed Lisa.  But had I been sat in a vaccination centre, being farmed through a room with dozens of other people, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were talking about.

“The loudest voice in the room at the time was from the Government to get vaccinated. Do your bit. Lisa was only doing what she was asked to do”.

It is understood that out of the other 11 cases that have been dropped, one other relates to a fatality and in this case, vaccine-induced immune thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (VITT) is recorded in the death certificate. VITT is the name for the rare condition which causes blood clots and low platelets discovered by scientists during the rollout of the Covid jab.

Of the other ten cases, all but one of these either received a VDPS payment or have had causation accepted by the scheme, even though no payout was made because they were judged to be less than 60 per cent disabled.

AstraZeneca said: “Our sympathy goes out to anyone who has lost loved ones or reported health problems. Patient safety is our highest priority and regulatory authorities have clear and stringent standards to ensure the safe use of all medicines, including vaccines.”

It added: “From the body of evidence in clinical trials and real-world data, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has continuously been shown to have an acceptable safety profile and regulators around the world consistently state that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of extremely rare potential side effects.”

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Death in Paradise reveals new star as it ditches ‘middle-aged white guys’

Don Gilet will be the new lead detective in Death in Paradise as the BBC show gives the fish-out-of-water theme a new twist.

Gilet, who previously appeared in one episode in the fourth series of the show, will play DI Mervin Wilson, a Londoner who arrives on the island of Saint Marie and “isn’t overly pleased with his new surroundings”.

He succeeds Ralf Little, who played DI Neville Parker for five series of the BBC One show. Previously, the lead role was played by Ardal O’Hanlon, Kris Marshall and Ben Miller.

Gilet, whose credits include EastEnders, Holby City and Shetland, is the first black actor to play the role. While DI Wilson has spent his life in London, he may have a connection to Saint Marie.

The announcement comes after Kris Marshall, who was the star in series 3-6, told The Telegraph in March: “What I think would be really brilliant for the show now is that they have a person – whether guy or girl – of Caribbean heritage who has grown up in Britain, is completely, for want of a better word, anglicised, has never been to the Caribbean and finds it really hard.

“Because obviously we’ve had lots of middle-aged white guys, and that’s been great and the show’s been a success, but I think it would really give it another angle.”

Filming on series 14 is under way in Guadeloupe. Gilet said: “Being offered the new lead role in Death in Paradise feels like a deeply loved and incredibly precious jewel has been placed in my hands.

“This is a big show with a big heart and the love continually grows for it. It is my intention to never lose sight of that and to remain grateful, humbled and dedicated. Even during those testing times when every sinew is screaming at me to run off the set and dive into the sea, swimming pool or an ice-cold beer – whichever happens to be closer at the time!”

Death In Paradise is one of the BBC’s most popular series and has been licensed to 230 territories worldwide. Gilet’s first episode will air this Christmas.

Lindsay Salt, director of BBC drama, said that Gilet had “long been one of the UK’s most exciting actors”, adding: “Death in Paradise is in brilliant hands.”

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