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Cabinet Considers Abandoning Brexit Talks

Fourteen senior Conservative party figures have pressured the prime minister to scrap talks with Labour as hopes of a cross-party agreement fade. They include former defence secretary Michael Fallon, who has called for the talks to be abandoned – describing cross-party negotiations as “a blind alley taking us into a customs union”. Membership of a customs union with the EU is thought to be a key demand of the Labour party. However, the prospect has proved unpopular among Conservative MPs, with some warning the concession could see Theresa May lose as much support as she gains. 

Both the government and Labour negotiators expressed a lack of optimism about the prospect of a cross-party compromise deal after discussions ended with little progress on Monday. May’s cabinet is now expected to discuss whether to persevere with Brexit talks or move to a series of parliamentary votes to progress Britain’s exit from the EU. The votes are likely to be “definite votes” with a binding outcome. May has also pledged to bring forward the Brexit withdrawal bill to the Commons for another vote in the week beginning 3rd June – with or without Labour's backing.

CRIME AGENCY CALLS FOR £3BN BOOST

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned it needs an extra £3bn worth of funding if it is to effectively tackle the growing threat of organised crime over the next three years. According to NCA head Lynne Owens, the level of danger posed by organised crime gangs will require the agency to more than double its annual budget from £424m to over £1bn. In a speech yesterday, Owens warned the British public were likely to “feel the consequences” of the threat if the government failed to increase the NCA’s funding.

The NCA believes 37,000 people are currently operating as part of over 4,500 organised crime groups in the UK, engaging in crimes such as drug dealing, people trafficking and trading sex abuse imagery online. The agency has warned that the threat of organised crime group activity can change rapidly in terms of “scale and complexity” as a result of developing technology, globalisation and growing demand for services. Owens believes the extra funding is vital to combat the growing cost of organised crime to the UK, saying: “Some will say we cannot afford to provide more investment, but I say we cannot afford not to.”

#QOTD
QuoteOfTheDay
It is possible to make entertaining TV that does not revolve around the potential humiliation of guests.

TV psychologist Honey Langcaster-James, after it emerged a man who appeared on ITV’s Jeremy Kyle Show had killed himself a week after filming. The programme has been suspended indefinitely by ITV in the wake of the death of 63-year-old Steve Dymond. Dymond failed a lie-detector test taken during filming after being accused of being unfaithful by his fiancée. The test result prompted the couple to split.

MP Charles Walker has called for the show to be axed following Dymond’s death. A vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on suicide and self-harm prevention, Walker described the programme as “based on the bullying of the weak and vulnerable” and said it was incompatible “with a responsible society and a responsible broadcaster”. However, Dymond’s fiancé has praised the production’s after-care provision, saying: “They were really persistent in offering him help.”

In other news...

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE HITS 44-YEAR LOW

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed unemployment fell to 3.8% in the first three months of 2019. The drop has seen unemployment reach its lowest rate since the end of 1974. According to data from ONS, the number of unemployed people fell to 1.3m over the three months – a drop of 65,000. The figures suggest the British labour market has remained resilient in the face of ongoing Brexit uncertainty. However, some experts have suggested the increased hiring reflects an unwillingness among British businesses to commit to longer-term investments – preferring to take on more workers instead. The ONS data also showed a minor slow down in annual wage growth, excluding bonuses, which fell to 3.3% from 3.4% in the three months to February. 

WHATSAPP SUFFERS MAJOR SECURITY BUG

WhatsApp has urged its users to update the app to its latest version after discovering a major security bug in its software. The vulnerability within the messaging app was first reported by the Financial Times. According to the paper, the spyware – which can enter the phone through WhatsApp’s call function – was developed by an Israeli cyber intelligence company. WhatsApp has developed an update to fix the bug which security experts have urged users to install as soon as possible. According to WhatsApp, the attack had “all the hallmarks” of spyware with the ability to take over mobile phone operating systems. The company said the bug had reportedly been developed by a private firm for governments, potentially with the purpose of spying on citizens.

WESTMINSTER PAEDOPHILE ACCUSER FACES COURT

Carl Beech faced Newcastle crown court yesterday after being accused of lying about witnessing child murders and sexual abuse. The 51-year-old from Gloucester is suspected of inventing claims relating to a paedophile ring which included the highest members of the UK’s military and government. Addressing the jury yesterday, prosecutors said Beech’s allegations had prompted a £2m police investigation which found no evidence of his claims. Upon investigating Beech himself, police discovered “the allegations were found to be provably false.” Beech then fled overseas in an attempt to avoid prosecution. Prosecutors described Beech’s false accusations as having caused “immeasurable distress” to those targeted. Beech denies 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one count of fraud.

ANTI-MUSLIM RIOTS IN SRI LANKA

The Sri Lankan government has vowed to crack down on rioters with “maximum-force” after unrest targeted Muslim-owned properties and mosques this week. The violence saw Muslim-owned shops and businesses vandalised or torched, with one Muslim man killed by rioters. Police responded to disturbances in several towns, using tear gas to disperse crowds and imposing an indefinite curfew in the North-Western province. Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has appealed for calm following the riots, arguing the unrest could hamper the ongoing investigation into the Easter Sunday terror attacks. Tensions have run high in some communities in the wake of last month’s bombings, which saw Islamic State terrorists kill more than 250 people in attacks on churches and hotels.

VODAFONE POSTS £6.6BN LOSS

Vodafone has slashed its shareholder pay-out after posting an annual loss of £6.6bn. The mobile giant announced it would be cutting its dividends as it moves to focus investment on its 5G network development and cutting company debt. The loss of £6.6bn compares to profits of £2.4bn in the year to the end of March 2019. The company’s profit crash has been put down to the financial blow dealt by its sale of Vodafone India and the writing down of some of its assets. It was announced yesterday that Vodafone plans to launch its 5G mobile network to customers and businesses across seven UK cities on 3rd July. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London will be the first to benefit from the new super-fast network.

In Numbers:
10.7 BILLION

The number of waste packaging items thrown out each year as a result of “on the go” lunches. A new survey has revealed 64% of people are now buying more takeaway lunches – which include an average of four separately packaged items. Carried out by environmental charity Hubbub, the survey’s results have seen the organisation call for a return to packed lunches, adding: "If you do buy lunch on the go, don't be shy – take along your own container to your favourite lunch spot.”

Picture Of The Day
Meals are prepared in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (Source: The Times)
A woman helps to lay out hundreds of meals at a mosque in Indonesia as Muslims prepare to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.