Autumn budget creates tension
Whitehall sources have said there will be no VAT cuts to household energy bills in the chancellor’s budget announcement today. Labour has been calling for the rate to be slashed from 5% to zero for the next six months to help households get through a tough winter. Sources have told the BBC lower-income households can be better helped through other schemes.
Meanwhile, business minister Paul Scully has said the announced £5m pay rise for public-sector workers may not beat inflation. He said the pay review bodies will “look to what should be an appropriate rise for the public sector, given the public finances” but conceded he could not “pre-empt what they are going to do”.
In the House of Commons yesterday, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle called on Rishi Sunak to answer questions about the package in light of his pre-emptive budget announcements. The Speaker implied the chancellor should resign over budget information given to journalists, as they were briefed before announcements were officially made to MPs. Sunak’s junior Simon Clarke appeared in the chancellor’s place.
Absences expected at Cop26
Chinese president Xi Jinping is expected to miss the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow on Sunday – despite China being one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Instead, China will likely be represented by vice-environment minister Zhao Yingmin. Li Shuo, senior climate adviser with Greenpeace in Beijing, said: “Cop26 needs high-level support from China as well as other emitters.”
The president’s absence could indicate China’s refusal to commit to more major climate pledges. China is reportedly dealing with a crippling energy supply crisis, so may be hesitant to engage with further promises. In 2020, Xi Jinping already committed China to start cutting coal consumption by 2026.
The news came as Sir David Attenborough sent a warning to leaders ahead of Cop26, saying: “Act now or it’ll be too late.” Elsewhere, actor Joanna Lumley has suggested bringing back rationing to help tackle climate change. In a bid to reduce individual waste, Lumley suggested a points system in which people are given a certain number of climate credits to use however they like.
Commons commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone says Conservative MP Owen Patterson has breached paid advocacy rules. Since August 2015, Patterson has worked as an advisor to Randox, a clinical diagnostics company. It was also discovered he had been a paid consultant to Lynn’s Country Foods, a processor and distributor of meat products, since December 2016.
In a ruling administered on Tuesday, Patterson was given a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons. His penalty means he could lose his seat if enough constituents trigger a byelection. Under a law introduced in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, any MP suspended for more than 10 days can face a trigger ballot where their constituents decide whether to force a byelection by supporting a recall petition.
In other news
Met police officer accused of rape
A court has heard how a Metropolitan police officer, who is on trial for rape, was told no by a woman when he initiated sex. James Geoghegan, 27, is accused of raping a woman at her home in Essex in 2018. The woman returned to her home with Geoghegan where they shared a consensual kiss, but he then proceeded to pull her shorts down despite her repeated resistance. After the incident, he said to her: “I thought you were just playing hard to get.”
Prosecutor Wayne Cleaver said as a police officer, Geoghegan had “professional insight” on where “sexual boundaries may be crossed”. The number of police officers being reported for abusing their role for sexual gain has soared in the past year. Following the murder of Sarah Everard by former Met police officer Wayne Couzens, changes are being made to strengthen how officers are investigated.
Time limit set for Prince Andrew case
The deadline for depositions to be completed in the sexual assault lawsuit against the Duke of York has been set for mid-July 2022. Virginia Giuffre has accused Prince Andrew of sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager. Giuffre also accused sex offender Jeffery Epstein of assault. The duke denies the allegations.
In the US, depositions see witnesses interviewed under oath by the opposition’s lawyers about their version of events. It is expected both Prince Andrew and Giuffre will be deposed, although it is not specified in court documents.The announcement comes as the Queen said she will not be attending the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow following advice to rest. A palace source commented it was a “sensible precaution” and indicated she will still deliver an address to the assembled delegates via a recorded video message.
Climate activists make demands
Animal rights activists have scaled the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) offices in London, demanding the government “defund meat” and subsidise plant-based alternatives to help alleviate climate change. Activists from Animal Rebellion, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, scaled the building at 6am yesterday morning. They hung a banner which said “COP: Invest in a plant-based future” in reference to the Cop26 climate summit, which begins on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Insulate Britain has asked people to drive at 20mph on the M25 from 7am today or not use the motorway at all. Its calls are part of a “nonviolent civil resistance to stop our government committing crimes against humanity,” and follow an injunction which means protesters could be jailed for blocking highways.
Japan’s Princess Mako marries boyfriend
On Tuesday, Japan’s Princess Mako finally married her ‘commoner’ boyfriend Kei Komuro. The pair met at university and have endured years of controversy following reports about Komuro’s family finances. As a consequence of the marriage, the princess has relinquished her royal rank. Japanese law dictates royals lose their status if they marry normal citizens.
The couple were not married with traditional rites and did not have a grand reception with the Imperial family. Princess Mako rejected a monetary payment of 150m yen (around £985,000) handed out to female royals who marry commoners and leave their family after marriage. She is the first woman from the royal family to deny the traditional rituals and monetary gift.
Covid-19 case rates fall
The NHS has said more than half of eligible over-50s in England have been given the booster vaccine. Cases of Covid-19 have consistently fallen for four days in a row, however Downing Street said it is too early to draw any full conclusions from the case rates. A spokesperson urged the public “to abide by the guidance as set out”.
Meanwhile, the US has unveiled new travel rules ahead of lifting flight restrictions to travellers on 8th November. Airlines will be required to check the vaccination status of passengers before they can board departing flights. Any unvaccinated travellers, including US citizens, will have to show a negative Covid-19 test taken within one day of their flight. The US has banned visitors from the UK, much of Europe, Brazil, South Africa, China, Iran and India throughout the pandemic.
A Nasa telescope has spotted what scientists believe is the first known planet outside the Milky Way. The possible planet, listed under the name of M51-1, is the size of Saturn and is located 28 million light years away. M51-1 would be deemed an ‘exoplanet’ as it exists beyond our solar system. Almost all other exoplanet discoveries to date have been within a distance of 3,000 light years from Earth.