MPs vote to delay Brexit
MPs have voted to extend Brexit beyond 29th March. In a vote held in the Commons last night, MPs backed a government motion to extend article 50 by 413 votes to 202. Those voting against the motion included Brexit secretary Steve Barclay, in a move likened to "the chancellor voting against his own budget" by shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer. The motion states that if a Brexit deal is agreed by MPs by 20th March, this extension will be brief, ending on 30th June. If no deal is agreed, it will probably involve a longer delay and see Britain take part in the upcoming EU elections. EU member states must agree to back this extension for it to be implemented – if they do not, the UK will still exit the EU on 29th March, but without a deal.
MPs voted on five amendments to the government's motion ahead of the main vote last night. These included an amendment seeking a second Brexit referendum, which was defeated by a significant majority: 334 votes to 85. MPs also voted on an amendment looking to impose "indicative votes" and effectively allow MPs to wrest control of parliamentary time for Brexit debate. This was defeated by a narrow margin of 314 votes to 312. May is expected to request the extension of article 50 at an EU summit next Thursday. Before this, however, the PM has indicated she plans to hold another meaningful vote – making a last-ditch attempt to push her Brexit deal through parliament early next week.
Soldier faces Bloody Sunday charges
A former British paratrooper is to face charges in connection with the Bloody Sunday killings. Thirteen civil rights demonstrators were killed in January 1972 when British soldiers opened fire on crowds in Londonderry. The deaths marked one of the darkest days of the Troubles. The director of public prosecutions for Northern Ireland, Stephen Herron, said there was sufficient evidence to prosecute one former soldier involved in the Bloody Sunday killings. Identified as ‘Soldier F’, the paratrooper is being charged with the murder of James Wray and William McKinney, as well as the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell.
Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) decided there was insufficient evidence to convict 18 further suspects, including 16 former soldiers and two alleged Official IRA members. The PPS said it would now review potential charges against others alleged to have committed perjury in relation to reports surrounding Bloody Sunday. Relatives of those killed have expressed their disappointment in the decision to only prosecute one soldier, one saying: “If these crimes had been investigated properly and evidence gathered then the outcome today would have been different.” Defence secretary Gavin Williamson said the government would provide Soldier F with full legal and pastoral support.
Head of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo speaks out in support of the school strikes inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. The Swedish schoolgirl has been nominated for a Nobel peace prize for her protests against government inaction on climate change.
Thunberg began a solo protest last year but has since inspired thousands of students to organise school strikes – further student demonstrations are set to be held in 105 countries today. As well as founding the Youth Strike for Climate movement, Thunberg challenged leaders at the UN climate summit in Davos last year, saying: “Change is coming whether they like it or not.”
In other news...
40 dead in New Zealand shootings
Forty people have been killed after a gunman opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. A further 20 people are thought to have been injured in the shootings, which were carried out during Friday afternoon prayers. Police also discovered multiple explosive devices attached to cars. Police commissioner Mike Bush urged New Zealand mosques to close their doors temporarily. Four people have been arrested in connection with the shootings. The incident has been described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a terrorist attack and "one of New Zealand's darkest days". It's estimated 300 people were in the mosques for Friday prayers at the time of the shootings, including members of the touring Bangladesh cricket team. The players escaped unhurt.
Knife offences at 10-year high
Knife and offensive weapons offences are at their highest level in almost ten years. Official figures show the criminal justice system dealt with almost 21,500 knife crimes in England and Wales last year – the highest number since 2009. In a fifth of the recorded incidents the suspect was aged under 18. In almost two-thirds of cases the suspect was not issued with an immediate prison sentence, although this figure is up from 20% in 2008. The figures follow the chancellor’s promise in his spring statement to award £100m to police forces to tackle knife violence. Responding to the news, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, John Apter, said the funding would only provide a short-term fix.
Cancer waiting times breached
NHS England has missed its flagship cancer target for more than 1,000 days. Hospitals are meant to begin patient treatment within 62 days of a GP referral for at least 85% of patients. However, NHS figures for January revealed the worst performance since records began, with only 76.2% of patients seen on time. In the last five years, the 62-day target has been met only three times by the NHS – meaning 130,000 patients have waited longer than they should have for vital treatment. Cancer Research UK warned the health service’s failure to treat cancer patients quickly could have life-threatening consequences. The 62-day target is one of the goals NHS England intends to keep in place during its planned shake-up of health targets.
Rail firm issued fine for timetable chaos
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has been issued a £5m fine for last year’s travel disruption. The introduction of a new timetable last May saw mass train cancellations and delays for hundreds of thousands of travellers. The disruption prompted an investigation by the Office of Rail and Road, which found GTR failed to communicate service changes and cancelled trains at short notice, leaving commuters unable to plan their journeys. GTR has 21 days to respond to the penalty notice. The firm said it was investing in improvements for passengers including upgrades to station screens and volunteer teams to help passengers during disruption. Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald has criticised the fine as “only a slap on the wrist”.
Airstrikes intensify in rebel-held Syria
Russia has launched a major assault on the last rebel-held province in Syria. The bombardment of Idlib province could prompt hundreds of thousands of people to join refugees attempting to flee the country. Turkey previously persuaded Russia to hold off from a full aerial assault while attempts were made to disentangle the main rebel fighting group from the rest of the population. At least ten civilians were killed in the strikes and a further 45 were injured. The assault came as foreign leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss aid funding for Syria. As much as £3.8bn has been set aside to assist countries including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where many Syrians have sought refuge since the conflict began.
A Welsh man has been ordered to serve a curfew after killing a seagull which tried to steal his chips. The 45-year-old was found guilty of breaching the Wildlife and Countryside Act after witnesses described how he had ‘smashed’ the bird against a wall following the attempted chip theft in Weston-super-Mare last year. He has been issued with a 12-week curfew between 8pm and 8am and ordered to pay costs totalling £835.