News diary 20-26 July: Face masks become mandatory in English shops and Russia 'interference' report to be published

Foresight News rounds-up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…

Monday

The fifth full round of Brexit negotiations gets underway this week, six weeks after the last round ended without any concrete agreements. Negotiators have held three restricted rounds of talks in the meantime, aimed at intensifying discussions around the key sticking points of fisheries and a level playing-field, but two of those ended early as the EU warned that “significant divergence” remains. With July considered a key month for progress in order to agree a deal by the end of the year, both sides will be hoping that the three weeks of “constructive” talks have yielded something substantial enough to move the dial in this round.

Members of the Public Accounts Committee question NHS England Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May on the NHS nursing workforce. The committee session comes after data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council showed that record numbers of nurses, midwives and nursing associates are currently registered in the UK, reflecting a growing number of people coming from outside of Europe to join the workforce. NMC Chief Executive Andrea Sutcliffe warned that the pandemic may have a detrimental impact on future registrations, with travel restrictions disrupting immigration flows and pressures on the system challenging the NHS’ ability to retain staff.

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Tuesday

Uber uses a two-day Supreme Court hearing to launch its latest defence against drivers’ attempts to be legally recognised as workers. The drivers have sought a formal change to their status, which would grant them basic employee rights including access to the national minimum wage, holiday pay, and sick pay. The hearing is part of a long-running dispute – the drivers’ case was upheld at an employment tribunal in 2016, an Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2017, and at the Court of Appeal in 2018, with judges in that case saying the ride-share app’s contract contained a “high degree of fiction”.

It’s a bumper final week on the virtual committee corridor, and first up is Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, giving evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee on the government’s handling of the first wave of Covid-19. Boris Johnson told a 17 July press conference that he hoped there would be a “return to normality” by the end of this year, but senior figures in the prime minister’s party have accused him of responding poorly to the pandemic and of trying to shift the blame onto the NHS.  Former Health Secretary Baron Lansley criticised Johnson’s stance, saying that all decisions on lockdown, testing and PPE procurement were made by the central government, not the health service.

Among the other heavy-hitters this week: Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick take questions on the work of their respective departments; Sadiq Khan is quizzed on the effect of Covid on transport in London; new FCA chief executive Nikhil Rathi appears before the Treasury committee; and Oliver Dowden faces a grilling on telecommunications infrastructure a week after the decision to ban Huawei from UK networks.

Wednesday

The Intelligence and Security Committee is due to release its highly-anticipated report into Russia and UK national security before the House of Commons rises for summer recess today. The report, which examines apparent attempts by Russian actors to influence the EU referendum and 2017 general election, has been delayed since before last year’s election, and the committee only agreed to a timetable for release after an attempt to have Chris Grayling installed as chair was thwarted by opposition votes for unlikely Conservative rebel Julian Lewis. Whatever the findings, the report is likely to dominate the final PMQs of this session, with members from across the House previously critical of the publication delay.

Annual figures on births in England and Wales, showing the total number of babies born in 2019 and trends in fertility and birth rates, are released by the ONS alongside data on births to mothers born outside of the UK. Last year’s statistics showed a decrease in the number of live births and a fall in the crude birth rate to its lowest level since records began in 1938, and the latest figures come after a study published in The Lancet offered a stark warning about declining global fertility across the globe.

Thursday

The inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack holds a further preliminary hearing as it works towards its formal start date of 7 September. The investigation faces a fresh legal challenge from survivors of the attack following a decision not to grant them core participant status, a move which could prompt further delays. The inquiry was initially due to begin in June.

China is expected to launch its first mission to Mars, though the famously elusive space agency doesn’t usually confirm dates until after they’ve happened. The unmanned spacecraft, Tianwen-1, meaning “Quest for Heavenly Truth”, marks the second of three launches to the Red Planet this month, as NASA and the UAE also take advantage of its rare proximity to Earth. If successful, the historic mission will arrive at its destination in February 2021 to explore the planet’s physical evolution and habitability over time.

Friday

Face masks become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England, with fines of up to £100 for non-compliance. The government has been criticised for the delay in introducing the measures, and for a lack of clarity regarding when masks must be worn. Face coverings are another point of divergence between the UK’s devolved governments: they have been required in shops in Scotland since 10 July but are still not compulsory in Wales, while Northern Ireland will reportedly see a proposal some time this week to have rules in place by the end of the month.

The trial for Johnny Depp’s legal claim against The Sun newspaper is scheduled to conclude at London’s High Court after three weeks of hearings. The case has been a huge focus for international media since beginning on 7 July, with explosive testimony from Depp on his failed marriage to Amber Heard taking centre stage. The Pirates of the Caribbean star is suing the paper over an April 2018 article which accused him of being violent towards his ex-wife, who has yet to give her evidence. A judgment is expected to be handed down later this summer.

The world’s longest-running soap returns after coronavirus-enforced shutdowns halted filming on many of the nation’s favourite shows back in March. Coronation Street resumes with the Rovers Return open only for takeaway food and drink in a pandemic-hit Weatherfield and the show’s over-70 actors appearing via Zoom.

Saturday

Indoor gyms, sports centres and swimming pools in England re-open in the latest significant return to pre-lockdown normality. The closure of leisure facilities in mid-March led to a boom in home exercise and the good old-fashioned outdoor walk, so the challenge for gyms will be attracting cautious customers back to paid-for spaces and shared facilities. Publicly operated leisure centres and pools, many of which already faced an uncertain future due to local authority funding issues, may need more than just the return of bathers to thrive in the post-lockdown world.

Sunday

The end is in sight for the years-long US election campaign, as Sunday marks 100 days to go until the presidential election on 3 November. According to recent polling, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden holds an increasingly significant lead over President Donald Trump, whose handling of the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn have contributed to a steep decline in approval ratings. With over 3.5m coronavirus cases and 50m unemployed, it will be up to voters to judge whether Trump has delivered on his promise to “Make America Great Again”.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

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