INDEPENDENT 2024-05-10 10:04:40

MPs warn that Brits could be blocked from entering Gibraltar because of Brexit

Brexiteers on a parliamentary committee have warned that British citzens and Nato personnel could be blocked by the EU from entering Gibraltar if “the Rock” goes ahead with settlement it had to negotiate because of the UK leaving the EU.

Following Brexit, Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo has been negotiating a deal with the EU to allow the outpost and home of a British naval base to enjoy free movement of people with the EU.

It comes after decades of problems at the border with Spain which claims Gibraltar for its own. But the border issue became a crisis for Gibraltans when the UK left the EU and in effect ended freedom of movement.

The UK has had control over Gibraltar since 1713 via the Treaty of Utrecht as part of the compensation for Britain to withdraw from the War of the Spanish Succession.

But now MPs fear that British sovereignty over the protectorate will be diluted or remain “in name only” as a result of the post-Brexit deal which Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron is understood to support.

The European Scrutiny Committee, under the chairmanship of hardline Brexiter Sir William Cash, have likened the deal to the one for Northern Ireland which has seen that part of the UK remain subject to EU laws and in the European songle market.

In a letter to foreign minister David Rutley, Sir William warned that the proposed deal as outlined by Government ministers in an evidence session on 30 April amounts to a “serious diminution of UK sovereignty”.

Among major concerns for the committee is how UK nationals and Gibraltarians will be handled if Schengen controls were introduced at Gibraltar’s airport rather than the border – a move the Committee says would render “Gibraltar’s frontier British in all but name.”

It labelled the practical implications of people being checked to enter their own territory as “seismic” with the EU due to introduce a new Entry/Exit regime in October, people returning to Gibraltar or Brits travelling there for work, could be forced to undergo biometric registration.

MPs claimed that ministers have failed to answer important questions on the impact of the introduction of Schengen checks on ordinary citizens entering their own territory.

It remains “unclear whether any time spent in Gibraltar by UK nationals would count towards the 90 days in 180 days permitted for non-EU nationals in the Schengen Area”, the letter said.

With the airport and the broader Gibraltar peninsula doubling up as a strategic UK military base, the Committee raised concerns over the powers EU border guards could theoretically have to block UK and NATO military personnel from entering the territory.

The letter demanded that any change in status of the airport “no matter how small or innocuous, must be ruled out”.

Mum stormed school reception ‘after son spent night with teacher’

A “distraught” mother stormed into a school reception after being told her teenage son had spent the night with his teacher, a court heard.

The 15-year-old, identified only as Boy A, had lied to his mother that he was staying at his friend’s house, but instead was at the apartment of school teacher Rebecca Joynes where they twice had sex, jurors were told.

Joynes, 30, at the time a high school teacher, is on trial at Manchester Crown Court accused of six counts of engaging in sexual activity with a child, including two while being a person in a position of trust, all relating to two teenage boys. Neither boy must be identified.

Boy A told jurors he and the teacher exchanged messages on Snapchat and she picked him up after school on a Friday night.

His mother, in a statement read to the court, said on the day in question, her son came home from school, changed out of his uniform and packed an overnight bag.

He told her he was staying at his best friend’s house as he had done before.

After her son left, later that night, she spoke to him and he told her he was playing Fifa with his friend at his house.

Boy A later told police he had arranged to meet Joynes who took him back to her flat at Salford Quays, where they twice had sex, the teacher warning him, “No one had better find out.”

The next day Boy A went shopping with his mother at the Trafford Centre when she noticed a mark on her son’s neck, which she said, “looked like a love bite”.

“I said, ‘What’s that mark on your neck?’” his mother said.

“He said, ‘Oh nothing, I don’t know.’

But the following Monday morning she got a call from the school saying an “allegation” had been made.

At the school a police officer told her they had received an anonymous report from Childline concerning an allegation involving a teacher and her son.

Her son was also called out of class but told his mother, “It was just a stupid conversation in group chats that got out of hand,” and he told police called to the school it was just, “friends having banter”.

His mother replied: “You could have cost this girl her career now!”

She left the school with her son, who was advised by police to stay off social media as rumours were swirling.

But back home she got a call from the mother of the boy her son had supposedly been staying at, the night he was allegedly with Joynes.

“I think I owe you an apology,” she was told, before confessing Boy A had not been staying with her son at her house – and that she had picked him up from an address in Salford the day after.

Boy A’s mother said, “Where did he stay then? It wasn’t at the teacher’s was it?”

She was then told, “Yeah, it was”.

Boy A’s mother’s statement continued, “I was upset and crying at this point. Crying my eyes out.”

She then went back to the school.

DC James Partington of Greater Manchester Police said in his statement, he was still at the school as Boy A’s mother returned.

“She entered the school in tears,” he said. “She stormed into reception and I would describe her as in a panic and distraught.”

Boy A’s mother described her son as “clever” and doing well at school.

A short time before the alleged offence, he had come and said to her, “My teacher is well fit Mum. Everyone says she’s well fit.’

“I just laughed it off,” his mother said in her statement. “I thought it was typical teenage boys’ comment.”

Joynes was suspended from school as police investigated and she was bailed on condition she have no unsupervised contact with anyone under 18.

But it later emerged that Joynes had been in a long-term sexual relationship with another teenage boy she had been in contact with while suspended.

The youngster is the father of Joynes’s young daughter.

The defendant claims sexual activity with Boy B did not start until he turned 16.

Joynes denies two counts of sexual activity with Boy A, two counts of sexual activity with Boy B and two counts of sexual activity with Boy B while being a person in a position of trust.

Chinese zoo defends dyeing dogs black and white to look like pandas

A Chinese zoo has been accused of charging customers money to see “pandas” that are actually just dogs painted black and white.

Taizhou Zoo, in the eastern Chinese coastal province of Jiangsu, unveiled a new exhibition featuring “panda dogs” at the start of May. Visitors were charged 20 yuan (£2.22) to see the new attraction.

But those who travelled to the zoo claimed the animals were actually chow chows, a dog breed known for its thick double coat of fur from northern China, and said the dogs had been dyed black and white to resemble pandas.

According to Chinese state media outlet The Global Times, lawyers said “inevitably the visitors will feel disappointed and deceived upon discovering the truth” about the exhibit.

A worker at the zoo denied accusations of false advertising, telling the outlet: “This is just a new display we offer to visitors.

“We are not charging extra. The wording featuring chow chow dogs is correct and exactly describes what they are, so we are not cheating our visitors.”

A zoo spokesperson also defended the panda exhibit, adding: “People also dye their hair. Natural dye can be used on dogs if they have long fur. There are no panda bears at the zoo and we wanted to do this as a result.”

It is not the first time a Chinese zoo appears to have tried to fool visitors with this trick.

In 2010, in the neighbouring province of Henan, a park in the city of Zhengzhou bought four dyed chow chows and a golden retriever, dyed to resemble a tiger, from a pet market in Sichuan as an attempt to attract visitors, according to a report from Reuters.

And last year, Hangzhou Zoo, south of Jiangsu, was forced to deny claims some of its bears were people in costumes.

It came after a clip of a Malaysian sun bear – named Angela – walking on its hind legs went viral in July and sparked speculation that the animal was a human being in a badly-fitting bear suit.

A member of the zoo’s staff said at the time: “Our zoo is government-run, so that kind of situation would not happen.

“The temperature in the summer is nearly 40 degrees, if you put on a fur suit, you certainly couldn’t last more than a few minutes without lying down.”

Is it still safe to fly with Boeing after series of accidents?

Air safety 2023: Accidents and fatalities at record low” – that was the headline for the first article I wrote this year.

Only two fatal accidents had occurred during the previous 12 months. Both of them involved propeller aircraft on domestic flights. Each of the 86 deaths was a tragedy, but for comparison the same number of fatalities occurs in an average of 35 minutes on the world’s roads.

Two dramatic events early in the new year actually emphasised the extraordinary degree of safety built into modern jet aircraft. On 2 January an Airbus A350 landing at Tokyo Haneda airport burst into flames after striking a coastguard jet that had strayed onto the runway. While five aboard the smaller plane died, all 379 people aboard the Japan Airlines passenger jet successfully evacuated.

Three days later, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max took off from Portland, Oregon on a routine flight to Ontario in California. The plane, a Boeing 737 Max 9, climbed above 16,000 feet – higher than the summit of Mont Blanc. Suddenly, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, “the left mid exit door plug departed the airplane”.

Miraculously, while various passengers’ possessions also departed the airplane, all 177 passengers and crew remained aboard flight AS1282 until the aircraft landed back at Portland.

These terrifying incidents rest very differently in the minds of the travelling public. The Tokyo event revealed the professionalism of the Japan Airlines crew and the safety features of the latest Airbus jet.

But the Portland incident shone a light on shortcomings in the way Boeing builds its planes. All Boeing 737 Max 9s with the same door plug arrangement were grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Inspections revealed “loose hardware” and “bolts that needed additional tightening” on in-service aircraft.

Although they are flying again, the deepening investigation has revealed some shocking shortcomings about Boeing’s manufacturing and inspection processes.

“We are not where we need to be,” said Stan Deal, then president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, 10 days after the Alaska Airlines scare. “To that end, we are taking immediate actions to bolster quality assurance and controls across our factories.”

Two weeks later, with the planes allowed back in the skies, he apologised for what he called the “quality escape” and said: “Our long-term focus is on improving our quality so that we can regain the confidence of our customers, our regulator and the flying public.

“We have to be better. We have to deliver perfect airplanes each and every time.”

The trouble is, the more the flying public finds out about practices at Boeing, the more anxious passengers may fret. Early in February, Mr Deal pledged to end “traveled work” – whereby components with known flaws were allowed on the production line, to be fixed as the plane was assembled. Many people were shocked that they had ever been allowed.

The FAA has slowed the planned production rate of Boeing 737 Max jets, which is feeding into higher fares and less choice for UK passengers; Ryanair is cutting back its summer schedule due to slow deliveries of the plane.

Attention has now spreading to other aircraft – notably the 787 “Dreamliner”, a long-haul favourite with many airlines and passengers. A whistleblower, engineer Sam Salehpour, said excessive force was applied to fit panels together on the 787 assembly line – raising the risk of fatigue that could cause it to break apart.

Boeing robustly rejected his claims during a long media briefing.

The planemaker finds itself in the extremely uncomfortable position of prospective passengers – aided by the media – feeling hypersensitive about almost any incident involving a Boeing aircraft.

In April, for example, an Air Canada Boeing 737 Max flying from Mexico City to Vancouver made a routine emergency landing (yes, there is such a thing, and they are common) in Boise, Idaho. A warning light suggested a possible cargo hold problem. Such an event would probably have gone unreported had an Airbus been involved. But so deep is interest in Boeing, that any story with its name attached is guaranteed prominence.

On 9 May two further incidents involving 737s occured. A 30-year-old plane left the runway after aborting take-off due to a hydraulic failure, and caught fire in Dakar, Senegal. Some passengers and crew were injured in the evacuation of the Transair jet.

At Gazipasa airport in southern Turkey, a Corendon Airlines Boeing 737-800 burst a tyre on landing. The pilots ordered an emergency evacuation.

Stan Deal need no longer feel at the mercy of a feverish media. On 25 March he retired immediately, and was replaced by Stephanie Pope. On the same day, the CEO of Boeing, Dave Calhoun and the company’s chair, Larry Kellner, said they would leave by the end of the year.

Mr Calhoun will have been at the top for less than five years. He took up the role in 2020 after the previous CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, left the company. Then, as now, the Boeing 737 Max was at the centre of a storm about safety. But it was an even darker time for the company, with evidence emerging of catastrophic decisions at Boeing that led to the loss of 346 lives.

The Boeing 737, first launched in 1967, is the world’s most successful aircraft. More than 11,000 have been delivered. But the Max 8 version was involved in two shocking and needless tragedies.

On 29 October 2018, a faulty sensor triggered an anti-stall system that caused Lion Air flight 610 to crash shortly after take-off from Jakarta. All 189 passengers and crew died.

Less than six months later, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi was lost, along with 157 lives, in similar circumstances. After the second crash, it emerged that Boeing had installed software that had the power to defy pilots and force the aircraft to plunge to the ground while pilots struggled in vain for control. All Boeing 737 Max aircraft were grounded for 20 months while safety enhancements were made.

The plane re-entered service in December 2020 – including at Ryanair, which is by far the biggest European customer for the Max. The aircraft is at the heart of its plans to dominate the continent’s skies. Yet in January the airline’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, revealed the airline had complained loudly about faults on newly delivered Boeing 737 Max aircraft – including a spanner found under the floor on one jet.

“We do a 48-hour check on every aircraft when it’s delivered into Dublin,” he told The Independent. “Coming out of Covid, we were taking aircraft deliveries and finding lots of small defects and things not fitted correctly.

“It is not acceptable that aircraft get delivered at less than 100 per cent.”

Yet Mr O’Leary has been supportive of Boeing’s soon-to-be-outgoing CEO, Dave Calhoun, and is hungry for more of his aircraft. So much so, that after United Airlines warned it might not take up its order for 737 Max 10s, the Ryanair boss said that he would gladly buy them instead.

How confident, though, can passengers be after the succession of revelations about the Max programme? Some passengers used to vow, “if it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going”. That rings hollow now.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the McDonnell Douglas DC10 jet was involved in a series of crashes, some due to design flaws. As passengers actively chose airlines that did not have the plane in their fleet, orders for the DC10 dried up.

Yet four decades on, aviation is far safer – and, it appears, passengers are unconcerned about the Max variant of the 737. When it reentered service, many airlines offered the option for worried travellers to switch to other aircraft free of charge. There were almost no takers.

Even after the Alaska Airlines episode, Michael O’Leary said there had been “no pushback” from passengers concerned about flying on Ryanair’s all-Boeing 737 fleet.

It is possible that some potential customers have quietly moved to airlines that use only Airbus A320 series jets for short-haul flights – such as British Airways, easyJet and Wizz Air.

But for anyone who cares to check the stats: Ryanair is the safest airline in the world in terms of the number of passengers carried without a single fatal accident. The only aircraft type it flies? The Boeing 737.


Why are free speech defenders not helping campus protesters?

Before writing about campus protests over Gaza, I thought it would be good to speak to some actual protestors. So I popped round to University College, London, where there is a modest encampment. It was a sunny evening and the sit-in looked peaceful enough.  But more I cannot say as I was politely ejected from the university grounds.

The “Campus Experience Team” – which was what Russell Group universities call, in effect, bouncers – were polite but firm. The protestors were but a few yards away, but the bouncers’ orders were to send any journalists packing.  

I googled the current £375k-a-year provost, Dr Michael Spence, and found his PR flaks had tweeted something he’d said only last August about “the need to disagree well and to approach any discussions with openness and a willingness to listen carefully.”

Off the beaten track in Costa Dorada

Blessed with swathes of golden sandy beaches between sea and mountains, Costa Dorada has an abundance of landscape to explore.

Jet2holidays makes it even easier to land your perfect active trip to Costa Dorada. Flying from 10 UK airports in 2024 and 11 in 2025, they provide package holidays you can trust and look after you every step of the way, with hotel, flights, free return transfers, 22kg baggage and 10kg hand luggage included – giving plenty of space to pack in the hiking boots and water shoes.

Here, we round up some of the best ways to immerse yourself in the region’s grand nature.

With roads being smooth and often car-free, Costa Dorada is an ideal destination for biking. There’s the Serra del Montsant mountain range for pushing those uphill challenges or coastal paths for smooth-sailing along the rugged cliff edges and golden sand beaches. The route from Falset can take in the lush wineries and rolling vineyards the area is known for. Start from this mountainous village and follow the road to the village of Margalef near the mountain edge before heading back to Falset. Or to take in the sea and mountains, start in the coastal resort of Salou before winding up the steep hairpin bends of La Mussara mountain. Make your way back to the sea at the coastal resort of Cambrils – known as the gastronomic hub of this region – for some well-deserved tapas.

There’s an abundance of coastal paths that navigate around the more secluded parts of the shores here. Camino de Ronda in Salou stretches for 6.5 km, curving in a U-shape along rocky coast and over golden sand beaches. The route can be stretched out to around 9km to cover the coastal path of Salou by starting in Vila-seca, La Pineda. The route runs between sea and mountains, with 23 viewpoints dotted along the way. It passes by plenty of places to stop for a spot of lunch with views over the Mediterranean Sea, too. If you want active pit stops along your walk, there are places along the route that offer up water sports.

Take a day trip out to the coastal city of Tarragona to explore its Roman ruins. The city was once a popular destination for Roman emperors, with the Amphitheatre dating back almost 2,000 years. There are other ruins along the coast to explore, with Roman, Spanish, Arabic and Moorish history weaved into the architecture. While in the port city, check out the Roman tombs and walled Medieval Old Town, before strolling along the harbour with its small fishing boats and pastel-hued houses.

Costa Dorada has an impressive total of 26 Blue Flag beaches, recognised for their calm, safe waters, cleanliness and environmental management. They’re particularly family-friendly, with resorts Salou, Cambrils and La Pineda being ‘Certified Family Destinations’ with dedicated facilities for families during the summer. Yet there are still many beaches that remain quiet and more secluded. Playa de la Pineda Platja is the main beach in the coastal resort of Vila-seca, La Pineda, yet remains fairly quiet. It also benefits from being close to Aquopolis Water Park with its giant slides and pools. While not being Blue Flag-accredited, Playa Llarga in Salou is outside of the city centre (but close enough to attractions like PortAventura amusement park), surrounded by a small pine forest that immerses you in nature.

The towering peaks of Montserrat National Park are one of the greatest symbols of Catalonia. The mountainous landscape is peppered with grottos and caves, while birds of prey soar above in the sky. While offering untouched nature, it overlooks one of the best wine regions in the area, with vineyards and wine cellars to visit. Head here for a full day hike or visit one of the four mountain villages in the area for a gentle walk. Elsewhere closer to ground level, Parc Sama Botanical Gardens in the coastal resort of Cambrils has an abundance of forest and foliage, with 1,500 species of flora and fauna. There’s also a lake with a canal and waterfall to stroll around.

Why has Nadhim Zahawi decided to stand down?

For a fairly brief time in 2022, Nadhim Zahawi, who has announced he will stand down from parliament at the next election, was in with a bit of a shout to be prime minister. He enjoyed an excellent “back story” as a Kurdish-born child refugee from Iraq; he had become wealthy through business; he had proved a successful minister, and had overseen the highly successful rollout of the world-beating Covid vaccine; and, in the chaos of Boris Johnson’s final days in office, he was appointed chancellor of the Exchequer in succession to Rishi Sunak, who had quit in protest at Johnson’s misdemeanours and careless style of government.

After that, he served in Liz Truss’s government before becoming party chair under Sunak. Renewed interest in his personal financial circumstances forced an independent inquiry, and subsequently his departure from frontline politics in January 2023. Zahawi’s undoing was a direct result of The Independent’s reporting of his tax affairs in July 2022, which was shortly followed by his withdrawal from the leadership contest. His remains an instructive political fable…

Starmer was right to bring Natalie Elphicke on board, despite the risk

Unlike a jacket from Marks & Spencer, say, it’s not possible to “return” a defecting MP to the party whence they came. Even if Sir Keir Starmer were inclined to do so, it is by no means clear that Natalie Elphicke would be welcomed back with open arms by Rishi Sunak. Certain things cannot now be unsaid by either side. For better or worse, the improbable convert has taken the Labour whip, and that is pretty much that.

This fundamental fact about Ms Elphicke frames the current controversies about her within Labour circles. However distasteful her new comrades may find her, they can’t do anything about the situation. Ms Elphicke is too important as a totem of Tory division for the Labour leadership to have told her to get lost; and the style of her “crossing the floor” at Prime Minister’s Questions maximised the embarrassment to the prime minister, and the dismay of her former colleagues.

With the previous defection of Dan Poulter, these two new parliamentary recruits bookended a stunning weekend of success for Labour in the local elections. If, as is sometimes surmised, the price of adding to the Tories’ humiliation was to give Ms Elphicke a peerage and a job in some housing quango, then that, for Sir Keir, is a price well worth paying.