The Telegraph 2024-07-11 16:12:40

LIVE Sunak ‘blocked prison overcrowding plans’ over fears of voter backlash – live updates

Alex Chalk, the Tory former justice secretary, suggested Rishi Sunak blocked a plan to tackle prisons overcrowding at the end of the last Parliament because of fears it would be poorly received by MPs and voters. 

The new Labour Government is understood to be considering plans for some prisoners to serve just 40 per cent of their sentences to tackle the overcrowding problem and an announcement could be made as soon as tomorrow. 

Mr Chalk told the BBC’s The Today Podcast that such a measure had been considered by the Tories but it was not taken forward because of political considerations. 

Mr Chalk, who lost his seat at the election, said: “We have to remember there are seasons in politics and it was difficult, as we know, at the end of the last Parliament to be satisfied that you were going to get things through Parliament because at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious you have got to win votes and so on the short sentences measures plus something which is called SDS40 [Standard Determinate Sentence 40]… a lot of sentences there is an automatic release at the 50 per cent mark… there is a question of whether that 50 per cent mark should become 40 per cent and that is called SDS40. 

“But the point is whether it is SDS40 or the short sentences stuff I was talking about you have to win votes and that is the calculus that was taxing the Prime Minister and others.” 

Asked if he was saying that Mr Sunak had opposed the plan to jail fewer people and to release some people earlier because of a lack of “political capital”, Mr Chalk said: “Even now I am not going to go into all the details about what was said behind closed doors but I think it is reasonable to say there was a variety of views about what could be got through Parliament.” 

You can follow the latest updates below and join the conversation in the comments section

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Crossbow attacker kills BBC racing commentator’s family

The wife and two youngest daughters of John Hunt, a BBC racing commentator, have been killed in a crossbow attack at their home…

Biden tells Starmer ‘football’s coming home’ because of him in White House meeting

Joe Biden told Sir Keir Starmer that “football’s coming home” because of him after England reached the final of the Euros.

The US president congratulated the Prime Minister on the 2-1 semi-final victory over the Netherlands as he welcomed him to the White House for their first face-to-face talks.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office shortly before 6pm local time (11pm BST), the pair were asked: “Is football coming home?”

“It looks like it,” Sir Keir answered, to which Mr Biden added: “It’s all because of the Prime Minister.”

The Labour leader replied: “Not lost a game under the Labour Government.”

The president later hailed Britain as the “knot” binding Nato together after Sir Keir congratulated him on hosting the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit.

“I kind of see you guys as the knot tying the transatlantic alliance together,” Mr Biden said.

“The closer you are with Europe, the more you’re engaged, because we know where you are, we know where we are.”

Sir Keir replied: “I think that’s absolutely right. Now we go into a cup final on Sunday, on top of all that.”

The Prime Minister earlier met a host of Nato leaders, including Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, as they gathered in Washington DC.

Sir Keir also met Volodymyr Zelensky, who thanked him for approving the use of British-donated Storm Shadow missiles in strikes on Russia.

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End your run now, George Clooney tells Biden as he hosts Nato leaders

George Clooney called on Joe Biden to end his election campaign as the US president welcomed world leaders to a Nato summit in Washington DC on Wednesday.

The Hollywood star, who is a major Democratic donor and described himself as a friend of the president, said Mr Biden was no longer “the same man” voters saw in 2010, nor the candidate who stood for office in 2020.

Calling for the Democratic Party to “figure it out” at its national convention next month, he added: “We are not going to win in November with this president.”

The 81-year-old president is facing growing pressure from figures in his own party to make way for a younger nominee before November’s presidential election, following his disastrous debate performance against Donald Trump on June 27.

At least eight House Democrats have openly called on Mr Biden to not seek re-election, but Peter Welch became the first in the Senate to explicitly do so on Wednesday.

“For the good of the country, I’m calling on President Biden to withdraw from the race,” the Vermont senator said in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

Clooney and Mr Welch’s remarks came as Mr Biden welcomed world leaders to Washington for the annual Nato summit, and met Sir Keir Starmer for the first time.

Both leaders will deliver press conferences on Thursday, with the spotlight particularly focused on Mr Biden after his recent string of gaffes.

Nancy Pelosi, the former House Speaker and Democratic grandee, said on Wednesday that she would support whatever decision Mr Biden makes on his campaign, ignoring his public insistence that he will fight on.

“It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run,” she said. “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision.”

Mr Biden appeared to have silenced doubters within his own party this week with a forceful letter to his colleagues and an interview with ABC in which he said only the “Lord Almighty” could convince him to stand down.

But when Clooney became the latest high-profile Democrat to use his platform to urge Mr Biden to reconsider his campaign, it added to concerns about his health on Capitol Hill.

“The one battle he cannot win is the fight against time,” Clooney said in an article for The New York Times.

“None of us can. It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at [a] fund-raiser was not the Joe “big f—ing deal” Biden of 2010.

“He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.”

In 2010, Mr Biden was caught on a hot microphone telling Barack Obama that his landmark health legislation was a “big f—ing deal.

Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, met congressmen on Wednesday and said he would pass their concerns to the president.

‘Terrifying threat of a Trump presidency’

Some Democrats are worried that Mr Biden will not only lose the presidency, but make Democrats in congressional races more unpopular. 

They have said that the presidency and both branches of Congress could fall to Trump, making it more difficult for Democrats to oppose his policies. 

Ritchie Torres, a Democrat representative in New York, said that Democrats needed to consider the “down-ballot effect of whomever we nominate”. 

“Blindness is not bliss,” he said, “amid the terrifying threat of a Trump presidency.”

Mr Biden’s presence on the ballot could turn New York, a previous safe haven for Democrats, into a “battleground” state, data shows.

An analysis by Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, suggested Mr Biden is likely to lose in the swing states of Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.

Mr Pelosi, 84, said the critics should wait until after the Nato summit before making any decisions about going public with demands for him to stand down.

So far, seven Democrats have issued public statements, with more speaking to journalists about their concerns behind the scenes.

Mr Clooney said that “every senator and congress member and governor that I’ve spoken with in private” believed the Biden campaign was headed for disaster.

There is no mechanism for Mr Biden to be deposed by his party, and any change in nomination would be made under a process designed by him.

Sir Keir flew into the Nato summit on Tuesday night after being sworn in as an MP in Parliament and met Mr Biden in the White House on Wednesday.

Asked what he wanted to get out of the meeting, he said he hoped to build on “a very special relationship we have between the UK and the US”.

“We make a unique contribution in Europe to Nato and therefore it’s a very good opportunity for me to talk to the President about how we take forward the important work at this summit,” he said.

He also suggested that Mr Biden was not too old for the job, arguing that his own government’s pledge to force peers to retire at 80 was not a reflection on the capabilities of any leader.

“We’ve got 800-plus members of the House of Lords, it’s simply too big. We need to reduce it,” he said.

“So it doesn’t reflect on how other elected representatives are chosen in other countries, it’s to do with the size of the House of Lords.”

Mr Biden’s Nato press conference on Thursday will be closely watched by critics for gaffes that will spur on their attempts to remove him.

His first event of the summit on Tuesday night appeared to pass without a hitch, and supporters hope that the scripted appearance will enable him to avoid any public mistakes.

Joe Biden’s health: Just how fit is the president?

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Concerns about his age come as Nato members discussed whether Ukraine should be allowed to use long-range missiles to strike military targets inside Russia.

Sir Keir said the UK government would continue to allow its weapons to be used by Kyiv in cross-border attacks, but stopped short of confirming whether that included Britain’s air-launched Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

He said the weapons would “obviously be used in accordance with international humanitarian law”.

The chief of defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, had previously said the weapon could only be used inside “Crimea and mainland Ukraine”.

Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, separately said that missile-equipped F-16 fighter jets would be delivered to Ukraine imminently, and would “be flying in the skies of Ukraine this summer”.

Ruben Brekelmans, the Dutch defence minister, said the discussions were focused on whether Kyiv can use long-range missiles to strike Russian aircraft before they mount attacks on Ukrainian territory.

He told The Telegraph the discussions were “about the range that those munitions can be used in Russia”.

Nato members will on Thursday release a communique setting out their joint approach to Ukraine for the next year.

The US and Germany have successfully blocked an attempt by some Eastern European countries to set out a timeline for Ukraine joining the alliance, amid concerns that could draw the West into direct conflict with Russia.

Instead, members will offer more military hardware and a “well-lit bridge” to membership that gives more detail on the criteria for membership than at last year’s summit in Lithuania.

In a nod to the ongoing conflict, Russia served “chicken kievs” at a dinner to celebrate assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on July 1.

The menu used the Russian spelling of Kyiv’s name, which is also commonly used for the dish.

Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, said: “The moral decay of Russian diplomacy is glaring.”

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Queen joins celebrities in Wimbledon’s Royal Box for women’s quarter-final

The Queen has arrived at Wimbledon to watch Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina face off against Russian-born Elena Rybakina in the tournament’s quarter-final.

Her Majesty was joined by an array of celebrities in the Royal Box including actors Keira Knightley, David Suchet, Richard E Grant and ABBA guitarist Björn Ulvaeys.

Other dignitaries included The Archbishop of Canterbury, Fergal Sharkey, the former punk frontman turned environmental campaigner, and Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England.

The Queen, wearing a cream linen giraffe dress by designer Anna Valentine, was seen shaking hands with ball boys and ball girls as she passed through the gates of SW19.

She later met former British tennis players Jamie Delgado and Laura Robson before taking her seat in the Royal Box.
The long shadow of Russia’s war with Ukraine was cast over Centre Court on Wednesday afternoon as Svitolina, 29, faced off against Rybakina, the world number four.

Only two days before, Svitolina had called for the All England Club to ban Russian players from competing after she broke down on court over the bombing of a children’s hospital in Kyiv.

Rybakina, 25, from Moscow, had represented Russia before switching to Kazakhstan in 2018 when she was offered funding and training by the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation (KTF) to support her career.

Svitolina, who has worn a specially approved black ribbon on her chest during her tournament run in solidarity with those killed in Ukraine, said earlier she would shake her opponent’s hand after the match, saying: “She changed her nationality, so it means she doesn’t want to represent her original country, so it works,” she said.

The late Queen had been an infrequent visitor to Wimbledon, making only four visits during her 70-year-long rule.
First in 1957, then 1962, 1977 and finally in 2010 when she watched Andy Murray triumph over Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen.

Royal biographer Brian Hoey, explaining the infrequent number of visits in his book Royalty Revealed: A Majestic Miscellany, wrote: “Tennis is not on the list of royal favourite sports.”

The Duchess of Gloucester has been earmarked as a likely candidate to present the Wimbledon trophies this weekend if the Princess of Wales is unavailable, as she continues her recovery from cancer treatment.

Debbie Jevans, chair of the All England Club said they would give the Princess “as much flexibility as possible” in determining whether she is able to fulfil her ceremonial duties as Club Patron on finals weekend, including leaving a decision until the morning of the women’s final on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, the seven-time Wimbledon champion, has sailed through to the semi-finals after his opponent, “honorary Brit” Alex De Minaur crashed out of the tournament with a hip injury.

Only an hour and half before they were to meet on Centre Court, Australia’s De Minaur, the world number nine, announced his withdrawal at a press conference.

A despondent De Minaur said it would have been “disrespectful” not to face Djokovic while not “100 per cent” ready.
De Minaur disclosed he had felt a “loud crack” while sliding to win a match point against France’s Arthur Fils on Tuesday.

He said: “It is devastating, no way to beat around the bush, you know… I haven’t really been able to enjoy what I have achieved this week, I knew as soon as I felt that ‘pop’ I knew something bad had happened.”

Asked when he might return to the court, he replied: “If I’m completely honest, I don’t know, they haven’t been able to tell me a definite recovery plan because this is such a unique injury, it is based on pain a little, right now it can be anywhere from three to six weeks it just depends on how quickly my body heals.”

De Minaur, 25, is seen as much a representative for the UK, as he is for Australia, over his romance with Katie Boulter, the British No1.

Boulter, 27, was knocked out this year by rival British player Harriet Dart, 27, in the second round of the tournament.

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Prince of Wales: I truly believe we can end homelessness

The Prince of Wales will say on Thursday that he “truly” believes homelessness can be “ended”, despite it blighting the lives of “far too many people”.

Prince William is marking the first year of his project to solve homelessness, which will report its progress in building community links to make homelessness “rare, brief and unrepeated”.

He has recently hosted members of the public who have had “lived experience” of homelessness, inviting them to Windsor to hear more about what needs to be done to help.

At a speech due to be delivered at an event in Lambeth, south London, on Thursday morning, he will say: “Homelessness is a complex societal issue and one that touches the lives of far too many people in our society. However, I truly believe that it can be ended.”

He hopes to “demonstrate that it is possible to end homelessness,” he will add.

The Prince’s Homewards project is working in six UK locations, building a network between the public, private and third sectors to identify the root causes of different forms of homelessness and make progress towards eradicating it in five years.

Matt Downie, CEO of homeless charity Crisis and a Homewards sector partner, said of the ethos: “The question isn’t what are our big problems and how can we wallow in them. The question is who can help?”

He added: “We are facing some really, really tough times. Homelessness is going up but actually, the evidence to end homelessness has never been better.”

The Prince and the Homewards project, run through the Royal Foundation, is taking inspiration from Finland, considered a global leader in the field.

It has a network of advocates around the UK to help identify how and where Homewards can best help.

One, Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, who experienced homelessness as a teenager and is now chief fire officer for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, suggested the prince had empathy for rough sleepers because of his own life experiences.

His mother Diana, Princess of Wales, took him to homeless shelters as a child to help broaden his horizons.

“He understands trauma, he does understand trauma,” said Ms Cohen-Hatton.

“He can see echoes of it in himself I think, from that experience of trauma and how it affects you and how it affects the way you see things.”

She has recently visited Windsor Castle along with a former long-term rough sleeper called Wayne, who told the Prince how he had turned his life around.

Moving from “managing to ending” homelessness was essential, he said, along with identifying the types of people most at risk of losing their homes.

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‘I very much exist’ says Reform candidate after internet sleuths claim she is fake

The Reform UK candidate for Glasgow North has been forced to insist “I do indeed exist” after internet sleuths claimed she was fake.

A social media conspiracy sprang up about Helen Burns after voters could find no social media presence linking her to Reform and she failed to appear on the election trail or at the count.

Some claimed that she was a fake name on the ballot paper.

Speaking from her home in the East Midlands, Mrs Burns admitted to The Telegraph that she was a “paper candidate” who did not campaign but said she wanted to stand in Scotland because it holds a “special place in my heart”.

Maybe voters were able to sense her love for the country as she came fourth in the seat, 280 miles away from her home in Coalville, getting more than 1,600 votes.

Not the only one accused of being fake

She is one of a number who has been accused of being a “ghost candidates” for Nigel Farage’s party after their pages on the party website contained no photographs, generic contact details, they had no obvious social media presence and they were not seen on the election trail.

Reform UK says that it is “absurd” to suggest that any of the 609 candidates it put up for last week’s election were not real.

Earlier this week, Mark Matlock, the party’s unsuccessful nominee in Clapham and Brixton Hill, south-west London, released a video of himself dancing in order to silence conspiracy theories that he was AI generated.

When traced by this newspaper to her detached new-build home in Leicestershire, Mrs Burns was equally defiant.

A PA for Reform whose husband has Scottish roots, Mrs Burns told The Telegraph: “Hello, I am here and I do exist. I am a real person. All the people who stood for our party are really people.”

In a statement to her doubters, she added: “You may have seen the fake news spread by media outlets over the past few days, claiming I don’t exist. I do, indeed very much exist.”

She said that she stood for Reform as she believed in Nigel Farage and his vision for the county.

“I stood for a constituency in Scotland as the country holds a very special place in my heart,” she explained. “We have travelled to many areas in Scotland over the past 20 years, and indeed got married in a small hunting lodge near Aviemore in 2019. This was featured in Scottish Wedding Magazine.

“I believe in Britain, and I believe Britain needs reform.”

‘Nigel in drag?’

The search for Mrs Burns began after internet sleuths were unable to find any information about her online or a social media presence linking her to Reform UK.

Users asked whether Mr Farage’s party had a “random Scottish name generator” to create fake individuals to put on the ballot paper, an accusation that would have amounted to electoral fraud.

As they were still unable to locate the candidate, she was given an almost mythical status, with one user saying: “Helen Burns is the friends we made along the way.”

Scottish comedian Kim Blythe made a series of videos about her search for Mrs Burns, suggesting that she could be “Nigel in drag” or the “masked singer”.

In a third video, Ms Blythe travelled to London, joking that the trip was a mission to locate the candidate. She filmed herself calling out “Helen” in Westminster and went to Reform UK’s nearby address, only to discover that it was a “virtual office”.

Even Mrs Burns’ rivals for the Glasgow North seat joined in the hunt.

Iris Duane, who stood for the Greens, joked that “she was in me all along” when footage emerged of the camera panning to focus on her when Mrs Burns’ share of the vote was announced at the Glasgow Emirates Arena.

Ms Blythe said that this proved that “we are all Helen”.

Daniel O’Malley, the Liberal Democrat candidate, used a Spartacus reference and announced: “I’m Helen Burns”.

“I would like to address the Helen Burns in the room …. or lack thereof. No she was not at the count or any of the hustings, even the one chaired by John Curtice,” Mr O’Malley told social media users.

“Questions need to be asked about the legitimacy of [Reform UK]. This is about trust in our election process.”

He neglected to mention the fact that even in the face of her absence he had won fewer votes than Mrs Burns – 1,142 to her 1,655.

‘Why would we have put up fake candidates?’

Mrs Burns, a mother of two and grandma of two, explained: “A snap election had been called, and Reform, which I have officially represented since the start of the year, had hoped to have a candidate in every single constituency.

“Some hopeful candidates couldn’t stand because there wasn’t enough time to get the vetting.

“Our constituents were really upset in some areas asking why there wasn’t a Reform candidate representing them. I was a paper candidate and was given every opportunity to represent my constituency.

“But I didn’t go there, I didn’t need to. I have visited Glasgow many times in the past.”

Gawain Towler, a Reform UK spokesman, said that the suggestions that they had fielded fake candidates on the ballot papers, which require both local election agents and 10 nomination signatures, were “preposterous”.

“It is as if people have never heard of paper candidates before, this has been a part of the British political system for longer than we have been alive,” he told The Telegraph.

He said that because the election was called at such short notice they had very little time to find candidates and even the Tory Party, which called the poll, did not have a full slate.

After Rishi Sunak announced the date, Reform “called round and asked if there was anyone willing to stand as a paper candidate” and many agreed, he said.

“Why would we have put up fake candidates? If we wanted fake candidates then we would have put up a full slate, but we didn’t,” he said.

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