News diary 22-28 March: UK marks year since first Covid-19 lockdown and social media bosses face disinformation questions

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

Monday

The anti-racism charity Hope note Hate releases its annual ‘State of Hate’ report which measures trends and developments in far-right culture and ideology. Last year’s report warned that far-right narratives were increasingly being found in mainstream use and described the government’s counter-extremism strategy as “wholly inadequate”. Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, who gave a passionate speech in Parliament last week on the government’s new policing bill, is among participants at a virtual launch event.

Theresa May, another critic of the policing bill, becomes the second former prime minister to give evidence to the Joint Committee on National Security for its inquiry into the machinery of national security. Appearing ahead of her former Chancellor Philip Hammond, May is due to answer questions on her experience of managing national security in government and her perspective on the Integrated Review, though her priority might be responding to remarks her predecessor David Cameron made to the committee earlier this month.

Tuesday

Charities have called for a National Day of Reflection to mark the one-year anniversary of the first UK-wide coronavirus lockdown. Calling COVID-19 “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British people to stay at home, leaving the house only for once-a-day exercise, essential shopping, medical needs or to travel to work – an exemption that soon saw the government facing criticism over pictures of packed tubes and construction site canteens. Despite an initial three-week review period and promises of “turning the tide” in 12 weeks, nearly 45,000 people had died by the time measures were relaxed 14 weeks later on 4 July, and millions of workers never went back to their offices as second and third lockdowns followed in November and January.

The Treasury releases interim findings from its fundamental review of business rates, which was announced at Rishi Sunak’s first budget and had been due to report last year. Plans to reform business rates were announced in the 2019 Queen’s Speech, and the case for realignment has only grown with the high street’s struggles over the last year. The rates holiday has been a welcome stop gap, but many firms will be hoping the Chancellor commits to a longer-term revaluation in this review. A final report is due in autumn.

Weary Israeli voters head back to the polls as the country holds its fourth election in two years with embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking a renewed mandate following the collapse of a fragile coalition between Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz. Ironically Gantz, who had been set to take over from Netanyahu after 18 months under their power-sharing agreement, is no longer viewed as a serious contender; attention is now focused two right-wing candidates, New Hope’s Gideon Saar and Yemina’s Naftali Bennett, and one challenger to the left of Netanyahu, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid. But with polling suggesting no clear outcome once again, a stable government looks unlikely with yet another early election a very real possibility.

Wednesday

There’s much for Boris Johnson and the committee chairs to chew over in the Prime Minister’s third appearance before the Liaison Committee, not least Dominic Cummings’ decision to add his voice to the growing number of calls for an investigation into the government’s handling of the pandemic. Johnson is also likely to be asked for an update on his lockdown exit plans in light of vaccine supply delays, along with questions on foreign policy and the Integrated Review and his response to the Sarah Everard case and women’s safety concerns.

The Scottish Parliament is due to rise ahead of the 6 May elections, making it the last day for any outstanding business. Holyrood’s committee on the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond is expected to publish its report on Tuesday, and will reportedly say that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon misled the inquiry. With those findings already leaked, all eyes are on the separate inquiry into whether Sturgeon breached the Ministerial Code, which is expected by today. Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has also outlined plans to push for a motion of no-confidence in the first minister before recess, while newly-elected Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar announced his intention to challenge her Glasgow Southside seat.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHS Test and Trace chair Dido Harding speak at the Local Government Association’s public health conference. Hancock is slated to discuss the government’s lockdown exit strategy just hours before Johnson’s committee appearance, so the Prime Minister will be hoping he stays on message to avoid another round of summer holidays confusion. Harding, meanwhile, might look to focus more on her role as interim chair of the new National Institute for Health Protection instead of revisiting criticism over the cost of the controversial Test and Trace service.

Thursday

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee publishes the findings from its major inquiry into the future of public broadcasting. The inquiry was established to examine the content, funding and regulation of all UK public service broadcasters, but has been dominated by questions about the BBC amid increasing competition from streaming services and the arrival of new commercial competitors. The report’s findings on the national broadcaster may attract most of the headlines in what’s proving to be a pivotal period for the corporation, though conclusions on the potential privatisation of Channel 4 and the future of Ofcom should also be noteworthy.

US President Joe Biden holds his first formal press conference since taking office, amid criticism that it’s taken him so long to face the media. His appearance follows the passage of the American Rescue Plan, Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, and his announcement that all American adults should be eligible for vaccination by 1 May. Though the economic and social recovery from the pandemic is likely to dominate, Biden may also be asked to address issues including the crisis at the southern border and rise in Asian-American hate crimes.

Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai (pictured, left to right) testify before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee on misinformation and disinformation on online platforms. The trio will be asked to address the role of Facebook, Twitter and Google in “fomenting and elevating blatantly false information”. The hearing is their first appearance since the 6 January Capitol attack, and is likely to focus on the threat of far-right conspiracy theories and misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines.

Friday

The Conservative Party’s annual spring forum goes virtual for this year after plans to hold the event in Newport (and give Welsh members a boost before the Senedd elections) were shelved due to the pandemic. While still riding high nationally, the party faces pivotal battles in May’s devolved elections, and its chances of victory in London seem to have all but disappeared. A perfect time, then, for a prime ministerial troop-rallying before campaigning proper begins.

EU leaders gather in Brussels with the bloc’s vaccine rollout on the agenda after several members opted to suspend use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against the advice of the European Medicines Agency and the European Commission. Leaders are also due to discuss the EU’s relationship with Russia following an embarrassing visit by High Representative Josep Borrell last month, after which he said Europe and Russia are “drifting apart” and warned that Russia views “democratic values as an existential threat”.

Saturday

While those in England remain under stricter lockdown regulations until 12 April, the “stay local” guidance in Wales is likely to be lifted from today, allowing travel within the country for the first time since before Christmas. The relaxation allows for self-contained holiday accommodation to re-open for one household and organised children’s outdoor activities to restart in time for the Easter holidays. However, there is concern that rising case numbers in the busy ferry port and tourist destination of Holyhead could lead to a local lockdown.

Sunday

On an otherwise quiet day which sees the England men’s football and cricket teams in action for the second time this week, the start of British Summer Time represents a welcome staging post on the road to normality and, hopefully, the easing of more COVID restrictions in just over two weeks. The switch to summer time on the continent was supposed to be the last for the EU, which voted in 2019 to abandon the practice, but the triple threat of bureaucracy, Brexit and the pandemic conspired to block decisions on how exactly that would work, and the change has seemingly been abandoned for now.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Pictures: Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

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