Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…
Monday (19 July)
It’s Freedom Day for one of the UK nations at least as the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England are finally lifted with an end to legal limits on social contact, the requirement to wear a face covering and work from home guidance. In practice, today is unlikely to see a huge shift to normality, with masks still required on public transport in London and many workplaces maintaining the flexible arrangements that have seen them through the last 18 months. Government advisors and health bodies remain cautious about the relaxation of restrictions, while “if not now, when” doesn’t quite have the same ring as previous Johnson government messaging. Today also sees border measures eased slightly as travellers returning from amber list countries who have been double-jabbed by the NHS are no longer required to quarantine in England, Scotland and Wales.
Scotland takes a somewhat more cautious step forwards as it lowers its coronavirus restrictions to a “modified level 0”. Under the new rules, pubs and restaurants can stay open until midnight and up to eight people from four households can meet indoors. However, facemasks remain mandatory in indoor public settings as part of Nicola Sturgeon’s plans aimed at reducing case numbers ahead of a move “beyond level 0” by 9 August. A potential stumbling block could come from a rise in cases among the unvaccinated younger population, with Scotland’s national clinical director conceding that the country’s vaccine programme has slowed down.
The United Nations is due to release its half-year report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Latest estimates suggest that 270,000 Afghans have been displaced since January, a rise of 29 per cent since last year. The report comes amid the full withdrawal of British and American forces after 20 years of military involvement. Though popular domestically, the move has prompted fears of a resurgent Taliban and potential civil war; combined with the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN warns of an “imminent humanitarian crisis”.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is set to become the second billionaire this month to travel to the edge of space. Bezos, his brother Mark, 18-year-old Oliver Daeman and legendary aviator Wally Funk will board Blue Origin’s New Shepard for the world’s first unpiloted sub-orbital flight. The world’s richest man was pipped to the post by Virgin’s Richard Branson, who conducted his own piloted space tourism flight on 11 July.
With the Tokyo Games just days away, the International Olympic Committee meets in the Japanese capital to select a host city for the 2032 event. The IOC is expected to rubber stamp Brisbane’s bid to stage the 35th edition of the Summer Olympics, having identified the Australian city as its preferred host back in February. The Brisbane Olympics would mark the first time the Games have been held on Australian soil in more than 30 years after Sydney staged the event back in 2000.
The Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services publishes its annual State of Policing report, assessing the current operational health of police forces in England and Wales. Last year’s release was highly critical of the current policing structure, calling for an “effective and efficient single system of law enforcement”, while also urging the Home Office to take on a more “hands-on” role. The Inspectorate’s assessment of the Metropolitan Police will be one to watch following a difficult 12-month period for the force, which has sparked wider questions over the long-term future of Commissioner Cressida Dick.
The final PMQs of this session of Parliament comes after a relatively wobbly period for Boris Johnson amid battles with his backbenchers and the opposition over racism in football, foreign aid, Covid policy, schools, by-elections and the Prime Minister’s levelling up agenda. One consequence of the rows was a slight fall for the Conservatives in a poll released after the last round of PMQs, so a robust performance from Johnson may be required today to prevent a restive summer for Tory MPs.
Thursday marks 10 years since the 22 July terrorist attacks in Norway, in which 77 people were killed by a car bomb in Oslo’s government quarter and a mass shooting at a Workers’ Youth League summer camp on the island of Utoya. Prime Minister Erna Solberg attends memorial services with survivors and victims’ families outside of the destroyed prime minister’s office and on Utoya ahead of a national commemorative event in the evening.
A meeting of G20 environment ministers takes place in Naples as the Italian presidency continues preparations for its “People, Planet and Prosperity”-themed summit later this year. A preparatory deputies meeting in March featured discussions on climate change and biodiversity loss, and today’s ministerial gathering, which is followed by a joint climate and energy meeting on Friday, is expected to see work continue on a communiqué to address illegal logging and wildlife trade.
The shortlist of 12 artists for the prestigious Hyundai Mercury Prize is announced. The awards honour artists from an eclectic range of genres, with previous winners including Arctic Monkeys, Alt-J and The xx. Organisers will be hoping the government’s relaxed rules for indoor gigs, which have been broadly welcomed by the industry, stay in place until the autumn, allowing them to stage the awards ceremony at the Hammersmith Apollo on 9 September.
The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics marks the formal start of the Games of the 32nd Olympiad a full year later than planned. More than 11,000 athletes representing 206 countries take part, competing in more than 300 events. Japanese Emperor Naruhito is expected to attend the opening ceremony, and reports suggest Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama could be in line for the coveted role of lighting the Olympic Cauldron. The first full day of competition kicks off tomorrow with archery, judo, shooting, weightlifting and the men’s cycling road race, where former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas leads Team GB’s medal hopes.
Former Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs is due to enter a plea at Manchester Crown Court after being charged with assault and coercive and controlling behaviour. Giggs is accused of assaulting his former girlfriend at his home in Manchester last November and displaying controlling or coercive behaviour over a three-year period from December 2017 to November 2020. A three-week trial is provisionally listed to begin on 24 January next year.
Boris Johnson marks two years as Prime Minister, and they have been more eventful than anyone could have predicted when he succeeded Theresa May in 2017. While his second year was consumed by the coronavirus pandemic, Johnson tried to reset the agenda for his third with a speech on levelling up, which was to be the defining theme of his premiership. The detail-light address received mixed reviews even from friendly quarters, and the government will need to introduce some stronger initiatives if Johnson wants the policy to be remembered as anything more than a slogan.
Donald Trump delivers remarks at a “Rally to Protect Our Elections” in Phoenix, Arizona. The event, hosted by conservative organization Turning Point Action, comes amid a controversial audit of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots by Cyber Ninjas, a company currently under investigation for alleged ties to Trump and his campaign. The battleground state is a key target for Republicans in next year’s midterms, with a senator, governor, and attorney general all on the ballot.
The British & Irish Lions take on South Africa in Cape Town in the first test match of their three-game series. The Springboks have already drawn first blood following South Africa A’s 17-13 win over the Lions – the match setting the tone for what is sure to be a fiercely contested series. Warren Gatland has been boosted ahead of the game by the remarkable return of tour captain Alun Wyn Jones, who re-joins the squad after recovering from a dislocated shoulder.
Sunday (25 July)
Team GB’s Jade Jones goes for her third Olympic taekwondo title on day two of the Games. The “ruthlessly competitive” London and Rio champion has seen her sport bumped up the Olympic schedule to the first week because of its huge popularity among Asian audiences. Elsewhere, Lizzie Deignan carries the team’s hopes in the women’s cycling road race and Britain’s women’s hockey players begin their campaign against Germany.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.
Picture: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch