PM Admits Brexit Crisis
Theresa May has admitted the UK is in crisis after the House of Commons Speaker blocked her from bringing her unchanged Brexit deal back to parliament. A spokesperson for the prime minister said a crisis had now “come to pass” with just nine days until Britain leaves the EU. May will now write to European Council president Donald Tusk to explain her next steps. The letter will include a request for a delay to Britain’s exit – which is due to occur on 29th March, with or without a deal in place. According to Sky News reports, this delay is expected to be brief, lasting around three months.
Pressure on the government has been ramped up in the wake of John Bercow’s decision to block a further vote on May’s twice-defeated deal. Pro-leave ministers reportedly clashed with Remainer ministers in a row during yesterday’s cabinet meeting. May’s spokesperson said the meeting “covered both the implications of the Speaker’s comments yesterday and the upcoming European Council”. The PM will attend an EU summit on Thursday where it's expected she will discuss a possible Brexit delay. It’s thought the PM may request an extension to article 50 which can be cut short if she manages to successfully pass her Brexit deal next week.
UK unemployment hits 44-year low
The UK unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in over 44 years. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), unemployment fell from 4% to a new low of 3.9% in the three months to January. It is the lowest rate since 1975. Employers increased their hiring activity at the quickest rate in over three years, adding a further 222,000 people to the British workforce between November and January. The overall number of those in work is now at a record high of 32.7m people.
The decline in unemployment has come despite increasing uncertainty surrounding Brexit and its impact on the economy. With little clarity over the UK’s political situation, employers had been expected to put hiring plans on hold. John Philpott, director of consultancy Jobs Economist, said: “Nobody seems to have told the labour market about the mood of Brexit-related economic uncertainty which has gripped the UK.” The Bank of England has suggested companies are hiring workers instead of spending on infrastructure, which is a more costly investment to reverse.
Sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, after 1.4m young people took part in global school strikes for climate action on Friday. The Swedish student inspired a global movement in the wake of her solo protest in Stockholm last August. Last week, this movement saw children walk out of schools in 2,233 cities worldwide, protesting the lack of action on climate change.
Further school strikes are planned for 15th April. Responding to critics of the protests on Facebook, Thunberg said demonstrators were merely “passing on the words” of science, adding: “Our only demand is that you start listening to it, and then start acting.”
In other news...
1,000 feared dead in Mozambique cyclone
More than 1,000 people are feared dead after a cyclone hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. It is thought to have affected 2.6m people across the three countries. One of the worst-hit areas is the town of Beira in Mozambique, where the Red Cross estimates 90% of the area has been totally destroyed. There has been little communication between Beira and the wider country since Cyclone Idai hit on Friday. Mozambique president Filipe Nyusi said he expected more than 1,000 deaths nationwide and warned at least 100,000 people remain at risk due to severe flooding. With many areas still cut off by floodwaters and destroyed communication lines, it may be some time before the true scale of the devastation is known.
MPs launch ‘survival sex’ inquiry
MPs are set to launch an inquiry after evidence emerged suggesting universal credit is forcing benefits claimants into sex work. The Commons work and pensions select committee said the investigation was prompted by calls from charities, who claim an increasing number of women are turning to prostitution to pay for rent or food. Termed “survival sex”, charities are concerned the practice has increased as benefit cuts, sanctions and waiting times for universal credit hit those already living on low incomes. Chair of the committee, MP Frank Field, said: “If the evidence points to a direct link between this kind of survival sex and the administrative failures of universal credit, ministers cannot fail to act.”
Letter may reveal Utrecht killer’s motive
A letter left in a getaway car may reveal the motive of a man suspected of killing three people in a gun attack on a Utrecht tram. Dutch prosecutors are continuing to consider a possible terrorist motive for the shooting on Monday, but said: “Other motives cannot be excluded and are still being investigated.” Initially declared a possible terror attack, authorities later suggested the shooting may have been part of a family dispute. However, prosecutors have been unable to link the suspect, Gökmen Tanis, with the three victims. Several witnesses suggested the suspect targeted a woman on the tram, shooting at those trying to help her. Tanis, who has previously appeared in court on rape charges, remains in custody on suspicion of manslaughter. Another 40-year-old man has also been arrested in connection with the shooting. His involvement is being investigated by police.
UK tops breast cancer progress
Breast cancer deaths are falling faster in the UK than in any other of the six most populous European countries. Death rates from the disease dropped 17.7% in Britain from 2010-14. The improvement is largely attributed to earlier diagnosis and better screening and treatments. The falling death rate has outpaced improvements made in Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Lady Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, welcomed the drop but said the progress only appeared so significant as the UK “had some of the highest mortality rates in Europe for a long time”. Around 11,900 people die of breast cancer in the UK each year. It is the second most common type of cancer death among British women after lung cancer.
Supermarkets pledge merger price cuts
Sainsbury’s and Asda have fought back against a ruling by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA has effectively blocked a planned merger of the two supermarkets unless they divest hundreds of stores. Sainsbury’s and Asda have criticised the decision, arguing there are “significant errors” in the watchdog’s findings. The supermarkets have pledged to deliver consumer price cuts worth £1bn and measures to reduce petrol prices as part of the fightback against the CMA’s decision. In a joint statement, the chains said: "We are trying to bring our businesses together so that we can help millions of customers make significant savings on their shopping.” A full CMA report on the merger is expected by 30th April.
The record-breaking sale price of Armando the racing pigeon. The bird was sold in an online auction this week, the winning bid more than tripling the previous record price for a racing pigeon. Dubbed the ‘Lewis Hamilton of pigeons’, the champion bird is now retired from racing – but his new owners hope he will father chicks to continue his legacy.