News diary 20-26 April: New RSF Press Freedom Index published and virtual Parliament sits - Press Gazette

News diary 20-26 April: New RSF Press Freedom Index published and virtual Parliament sits

Politicians and the media: Westminster

Foresight News provides a look-ahead to the key events that need to be in your news diary for next week…


UK businesses can start applying for funding to pay the wages of furloughed staff through the Job Retention Scheme, and grants are expected to be released in time for payroll at the end of this month.

The scheme was initially in place until the end of May, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an extension into June after business groups reportedly warned the Treasury of mass redundancies. A scheme for larger businesses, announced by Sunak late last week, also launches today.

The UK and the EU begin their first formal round of negotiations since the coronavirus crisis, with talks taking place via videoconference. Negotiating rounds were supposed to be held regularly after the UK left the EU in January, but only the first round went ahead before Covid-19 halted travel and forced both chief negotiators into self-isolation.

While the agenda will formally focus on the 11 priorities identified before talks began, all eyes will be on how the progress of the talks squares with the UK’s current refusal to consider an extension to the transition period.

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the US borders with Mexico and Canada are up for review. In March, when the policy was implemented, President Donald Trump suggested that immigrants were endangering US citizens by transmitting the coronavirus across the southern border.

Yet a month on, deaths in the US have reached 30 times those of its neighbours. The restrictions are likely to be extended, though with Trump targeting 1 May to begin reopening the economy, mitigation measures may be relaxed sooner than experts recommend.


The Office for National Statistics releases monthly labour market figures which should give the first indication of how the jobs market has been affected by coronavirus.

The contrast with last month’s figures, when both unemployment and economic inactivity were at a record low, is likely to be stark, though the IMF predicted last week that Sunak’s furlough scheme would limit the rise in unemployment to below five per cent. The UK’s OBR, was, however, less optimistic.

Reporters Without Borders launches its annual Press Freedom Index amid fears that countrywide lockdowns are having a repressive effect on the press, particularly in countries hit hard by the pandemic such as Iran and China. American whistleblower Edward Snowden attends the virtual launch.

Amnesty International releases its annual assessment of the use of the death penalty globally, which last year found that the number of global executions was at its lowest level for a decade.

States in the US where the punishment is legal have been struggling to source medicines needed for lethal injections, with medical experts recently campaigning for stocks to be used instead to help coronavirus patients.

The Queen celebrates her 94th birthday in isolation at Windsor Castle. Celebrations will be more muted than in previous years as the country remains in lockdown, despite a well-intentioned suggestion from Ben Fogle. The Trooping the Colour parade, which marks her official birthday in June, has already been called off.


It’s set to be a much-changed Parliament for the first Prime Minister’s Questions after Easter recess: proposals for a “hybrid” House of Commons, if approved by members on Tuesday, will see Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and up to 50 MPs present in the Chamber and a further 120 participating via Zoom for the opening two hours of business. If the new model proves successful, it would then be extended to allow MPs to participate virtually in debates on legislation.

PMQs is likely to come too soon for the recuperating Boris Johnson, which could delay Keir Starmer’s despatch box debut as Opposition leader with convention dictating that his deputy, Angela Rayner, face off against Johnson’s stand-in Dominic Raab.

Whoever asks the questions, their first attempt to present Labour’s new united front may be undermined somewhat by the revelations in a leaked internal report into the party’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations.


UK Finance releases data on the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, another of Sunak’s measures which is intended to support smaller businesses during the pandemic. The industry body’s first set of figures showed that while £1.1bn in loans had been issued, only one in five applications had been successful.

Early criticism resulted in an overhaul of the scheme at the beginning of April, so the Chancellor and business owners will hope for more successful applications this week.

Official retail sales data from the ONS are likely to confirm the findings of a British Retail Consortium survey which showed the sharpest fall in high street sales since 1995. Fashion chains Oasis and Warehouse followed Debenhams into administration last week as social distancing measures caused a collapse in footfall.

European leaders hold further talks via videoconference focused on the economic response to the pandemic. Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed that, for the first time, the EU could leverage funds guaranteed by member states in the EU budget to borrow on the international markets, and then use that money to support the economic recovery in individual states in the form of loans.

If history is anything to go by, the debate over using collective funds to support hard-hit members, such as Italy and Spain, is likely to be robust.


The ONS releases its monthly update on deaths registered in England and Wales, covering the month of March. The ONS data has been closely watched as it provides a fuller picture of the impact of coronavirus, counting Covid-19 deaths outside of hospitals as well as showing higher overall mortality levels that hint at the indirect effects of the virus.

An update published on 14 April, covering the week to 3 April, showed the highest weekly death toll in England and Wales in over 20 years.

Following the Government’s recent greenlight for HS2 construction to begin, the Commons Transport Committee questions HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson, HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston, and National Infrastructure Commission chairman John Armitt on how this will proceed during the lockdown period.

While officials insist the work cannot be delayed, the decision has drawn criticism for being “tone-deaf” due to the project’s enormous costs at a time when the government is being forced to ramp up public spending to combat the effects of the outbreak.

Despite worldwide store closures, a huge drop in consumer spending, and millions of people facing job losses, Apple is hoping that old habits die hard as it releases the new iPhone SE.

Dubbed its “most affordable” handset to date, the smaller, cheaper model targets the mid-range of the smartphone market and retails in the UK at £419. Data released earlier this year confirmed Apple’s continued domination of the smartphone market, with its iPhone XR selling some 46m units worldwide in 2019.


On 15 April, UK Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty told the Downing Street briefing that the government should have a better understanding of the coronavirus transmission rate “over the next ten days or so”.

If all goes to plan, experts may have a clearer assessment of how quickly the virus is spreading in the country by today, enabling the Government to judge how to proceed to the next phase of the response plan and potentially providing some clarity on when we might expect some lockdown measures to lift.


The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress begins a three-day meeting. While a draft epidemic prevention law is among the more eye-catching proposals on the official agenda, of greater interest is whether the Committee announces a rescheduled date for the so-called “two sessions”, the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress and the CPPCC, which were due to take place in March.

Scheduling the sessions, which are attended by around 5,000 political leaders, is seen as a milestone for China’s plans for a return to business as usual.

Lockdown measures are due to expire in Spain, Argentina, Peru, Lebanon and Kenya, though, as ever, extensions are still widely expected.

While Spain allowed some non-essential workers to return to their jobs on 13 April, parliament is already scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss another two-week extension of the country’s state of emergency, which would keep lockdown measures in place until 10 May.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Pixabay



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