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PM STILL FIGHTS CALLS TO RESIGN

Boris Johnson has weathered further calls to resign as prime minister over the continuing ‘partygate’ scandal. MPs are still waiting to receive the report led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, investigating gatherings held at No 10 during lockdown restrictions. The findings had been expected yesterday, but could come at any moment. The report is understood to be essentially complete, but Gray is yet to send it to the PM.

In yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the prime minister to keep his promise of publishing the report in full. Johnson said he would “do exactly as [he] said” while Downing Street said it intends to publish the report in the format it is received. Johnson has said he will allow time for opposition parties to study its content before making a Commons statement. It is also understood a group of backbench Conservative MPs are set to send letters of no confidence in the prime minister when the report is released.

On Tuesday, Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick announced the launch of an investigation into the parties held at No 10. This followed Monday night's allegations of a birthday party held for Johnson. Up to 30 people were served cake at the gathering on 19th June 2020 – when indoor mixing between more than two people was banned under Covid-19 rules. Dame Cressida said the investigation was launched following information sent by Gray’s team.

TRUSS ECHOES BIDEN SANCTIONS THREAT

Foreign secretary Liz Truss told yesterday's BBC Today programme the government has “ruled nothing out” when it comes to Russia, including sanctions against Vladimir Putin. This echoed Joe Biden’s threat of personal sanctions against the Russian president if Russia invades Ukraine. Around 130,000 Russian troops and 1,200 tanks, fighter jets and long-range missile batteries are stationed on the eastern border of Ukraine. Putin has also demanded guarantees Ukraine will never join Nato. Yesterday, the US rejected these demands.

Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said imposing personal sanctions on the Russian president would not hurt him but would be “politically destructive”, as Russia’s top leaders are legally barred from holding assets abroad. Sanctions would effectively sever diplomatic relations, said Peskov. Russia has moved more paratroopers and fighter jets to Belarus for what it alleges are military exercises. Ukraine foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had not yet amassed enough forces for a large offensive, but was sowing panic of its possibility.

Meanwhile, a US trade group representing large corporations with Russian business ties has asked the White House and legislators to be cautious over any potential sanctions. National foreign trade council president Jake Colvin said Biden’s administration and Congress must “get the details right in case they must follow through on the threat of sanctions”. He highlighted the impact those sanctions could have on maintaining safe harbours, humanitarian concerns and enabling companies to fulfil contracts.

#QOTD
QuoteOfTheDay
“I grew up in care alone – why did no-one tell me I had siblings?”

Ashley John-Baptiste, on growing up in care believing he was an only child, before receiving a message from a brother he never knew he had. Until the age of 18, he lived with four different foster families and in a residential care home in south-east London. In a new BBC documentary exploring what being split from siblings means to those who have been in the care system, John-Baptiste recounted feeling like he was “under a cloud of rejection” with no sense of family or belonging.

He met his birth mother at 10, but has never met his birth father. After initial conversations with his newfound brother, they stopped messaging four years ago as John-Baptiste was not ready to meet face to face. In spring 2020, when after leaving the hospital to visit a sick relative, he bumped into his brother by chance. He said he recognised him instantly, introduced his daughter and spoke “for what seemed like ages”.

IN OTHER NEWS

ROCKET ON COURSE TO HIT MOON

A SpaceX rocket is on a collision course with the moon, experts say. It was launched from Florida back in February 2015 as part of a mission to send a space weather satellite through a million-mile journey. Space observers estimate the four metric tonne “space junk” rocket will collide with the moon in a matter of weeks.

Meteorologist Eric Berger said the Falcon 9 rocket has been in a “somewhat chaotic orbit” after logistical complications caused it to run out of fuel and fail to return to Earth’s atmosphere. It also “lacked the energy to escape the gravity of the Earth-Moon system,” said Berger. It is very likely to hit the far side of the moon near the equator on 4th March, said Bill Gray, who writes software to track near-Earth objects. However, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, claims the impact is “not a big deal”.

MOST OMICRON CASES HAD COVID BEFORE

Two thirds of those infected with omicron have previously already contracted Covid-19, according to a major new study from Imperial College London. The study involved sending out 100,000 Covid tests to English participants and asking them to complete a questionnaire. This included whether the participant had had Covid before and if so, whether this was confirmed with a test.

More than 3,500 participants tested positive and filled in the questionnaire between 5th and 20th January, with 64.5% saying they had previously tested positive for Covid-19. A further 7.5% said they suspected they had previously contracted the virus, but did not back it up with a positive test. Programme director Prof Paul Elliott has clarified this evidence couldn’t technically be interpreted as reinfections, as the study could not rule out residual infections – cases where a person has tested positive twice or more for the same infection.

TWO MEN ARRESTED OVER TEXAS SIEGE

Greater Manchester police has arrested two men as part of an investigation into the 15th January attack on a Texas synagogue, where a gunman took four people hostage. Malik Faisal Akram, 44, from Blackburn was shot dead in a Dallas suburb by the FBI following a 10-hour stand-off. He demanded the release of an imprisoned Pakistani neuroscientist, who was serving an 86-year sentence in Fort Worth, Texas, over the attempted murder of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Two other men were arrested in Manchester and Birmingham five days later but have since been released with no further action taken. The siege began at 11am local time after police were called to the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue. Akram entered the building feigning homelessness before brandishing a gun. He released one hostage after six hours, while three hostages, including the rabbi, escaped several hours later.

38 MIGRANTS MISSING IN FLORIDA WATERS

The US coast guard is searching for 38 people after a boat capsized off Florida’s coast. It is believed the boat was used for people smuggling and was en route from the Bahamas. According to the maritime security agency, the coast guard was called after a man was rescued clinging to the capsized boat 45 miles east of Fort Pierce. At least one person has died.

The rescued man claimed he was with 39 others who left the Caribbean islands on Saturday night. He said the boat capsized in severe weather and no one was wearing a life jacket. Officials tweeted the search was being conducted by air and sea over a 125-mile area from the Bahamas to the Fort Pierce inlet. Refugee boats off the coast of Florida are not uncommon. On Friday, 88 Haitians were found crowded on a sail freighter west of Great Inagua, Bahamas.

PRINCE DENIES MAXWELL friendship

Prince Andrew has denied having a close friendship with convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell and has requested a jury trial, according to his lawyers. Prince Andrew is expected to contest a claim brought by Virginia Giuffre, 38, who accuses him of sexually assaulting her when she was 17 in homes owned by Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein. The prince has repeatedly denied all allegations against him. Yesterday, his lawyers filed an 11-page document arguing why Giuffe’s civil lawsuit should be dismissed.

The document said: “Assuming, without admitting, that Giuffre has suffered any injury or damage alleged in the complaint, Giuffre's claims are barred by the doctrine of consent." It also stated the prince admits he had met Epstein, who committed suicide after being convicted for sex trafficking in 2019, “in or around 1999”. It denies the prince participated in any abuse with the late financier.

Have You Heard?

Peter Dinklage has criticised Disney’s plans for a live-action adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The former Game of Thrones actor, who has a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia, said the progressive casting of a Latina actress in the lead role was undermined by “still making that backward story of seven dwarves living in the cave”. Disney has responded by outlining its plans to “avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film”. Dinklage often speaks up on the representation of dwarfism on screen, particularly how it is “bad writing” to make it a “dominant character trait”.

Picture Of The Day
Australia Day
Protestors demand the date of Australia Day be changed, Sydney (Source: Reuters / Photo: Jill Gralow)
Thousands of protesters gathered during the ‘Abolish the Date’ rally in Sydney, Australia, yesterday demanding the date of Australia Day – the country’s national day – be changed. Yesterday’s date marked the arrival of Britain’s first fleet in 1788, which resulted in the colonisation of indigenous Australians.