Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…
Cabinet Office Minister David Frost is in front of the European Scrutiny Committee alongside department officials responsible for Northern Ireland and the Protocol Delivery Group. MPs will be keen to hear more on the “productive” and “constructive” discussions Frost held with EU Brexit Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič last week, which kicked off two weeks of talks with political and business leaders aimed at solving the crisis over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Frost may also be asked about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent remarks on further steps the government could take, including a renewed threat to invoke Article 16 of the protocol.
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Elsewhere on committee corridor, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case’s appearance at a PACAC session on the work of the Cabinet Office takes on new significance following revelations about his advice to Boris Johnson on the Prime Minister’s WhatsApp habit. Case can expect to be asked for an update on his probe into senior civil servants holding second jobs, though it’s the committee’s other guest, Cabinet Office director general for propriety and ethics Darren Tierney, who may be in for the more testing afternoon. Meanwhile, former Cabinet Secretaries Mark Sedwill and Gus O’Donnell give evidence to the Lords Constitution Committee on whether the Cabinet Manual should be updated.
Scotland and Wales introduce significant new relaxations to their coronavirus restrictions as both countries aim to accelerate their economic recoveries. Mainland Scotland drops from a “level 4” to a “level 3” alert, reopening cafes, pubs, and restaurants, and permitting indoor socialising. New relaxations in Wales allow for the reopening of outdoor hospitality and attractions as well as outdoor organised events with up to 30 guests. Nicola Sturgeon has already identified 17 May as the next target date for a further easing, though Mark Drakeford warns his government will continue to adopt a more cautious approach.
Amid growing concerns about the health of imprisoned opposition figure Alexei Navalny, a court in Moscow hears arguments in a case brought by Russian prosecutors against his Anti-Corruption Foundation, the FBK, accusing it of being an “extremist” organization. If authorities succeed in having the foundation categorised alongside groups such as ISIS and the Taliban, it dramatically raises the stakes for those associated with the FBK, who could face lengthy prison terms.
The European Parliament is finally scheduled to vote on the UK-EU Trade Agreement, just days before the provisional application of the treaty is due to expire. MEPs had resisted scheduling the vote amid the ongoing issues over the Northern Ireland Protocol, but agreed to go ahead after the parliament’s trade and foreign affairs committees overwhelmingly backed the agreement last week. The vote is expected to pass easily, avoiding a situation where the agreement would cease to apply at the end of the month and cause further damage and disruption.
UN-hosted talks on Cyprus kick off in Geneva in the latest effort to create momentum towards resolving the island’s decades-long division between the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres attends the talks, and the UK – one of three “guarantor powers” – is likely represented by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who visited the island earlier this year. But already-slim hopes for a breakthrough at the gathering, the first major effort on this issue since 2017, were dampened following an uncomfortable meeting between the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers earlier this month.
The Champions League semi-finals get underway as European football looks to recover from one of the most controversial weeks in its history. The semi-finals come just days after members of the proposed European Super League were forced into a monumental mea culpa following overwhelming pressure from fans, governing bodies, royalty, and government. Paris Saint-Germain are the only side still in the competition to have shunned the proposed ESL, a decision which is sure to see football purists and neutrals now rooting for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
The Treasury Select Committee holds a scene-setting evidence session with former Treasury Permanent Secretary Lord Macpherson and former City Minister Lord Myners to kick off its inquiry into Greensill Capital. The committee’s inquiry, the first of what is likely to be several parliamentary investigations into Greensill’s links to the highest levels of government, will focus on regulatory aspects of the firm’s collapse and whether the Treasury responded “appropriately” to its lobbying during the pandemic. Key figures in the scandal, including founder Lex Greensill, former Prime Minister David Cameron, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, will be called to give evidence at future hearings.
We find out just how many awards Line of Duty could take home as the BATFA Television Awards nominations are announced. This year’s socially distanced ceremony is hosted once again by Richard Ayoade on 6 June and is likely to follow in the footsteps of its sister Film Awards in adhering to BAFTA’s commitment of “levelling the playing field” by nominating more actors and creators from a diverse range of ethnic minority background
US President Joe Biden delivers an address to a joint session of Congress on the eve of his 100th day in office. For the first time, two women will sit behind the president, who will speak to a sparsely filled chamber of lawmakers protected by heightened security. Biden is expected to highlight his early successes, including the passage of the American Rescue Plan, as well as upcoming priorities like his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal and withdrawal from Afghanistan. Plans to confront challenges such as the border crisis, climate change, and Russia relations are also likely to be addressed.
After skipping a year due to COVID-19, the VLV Conference on broadcasting returns in an online format, with speakers including Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon, former Ofcom chairs Terry Burns and Colette Bowe, and journalists Jon Snow and Julia Hartley-Brewer. In a climate of scrutiny for public service broadcasters, Mahon may want to discuss Channel 4’s new “4 All the UK” strategy and a recent report which claimed the broadcaster contributes £992 million to the UK economy and supports 10,600 jobs.
Sport England releases its latest Active Lives Survey, which is expected to be heavily skewed by the impact of the coronavirus lockdown. Last year’s survey showed that activity levels in England were at a record high before the pandemic, with 63% of the population saying they take on at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Outdoor sport returned at the end of March and is a key pillar of the government’s health and wellbeing recovery plan.
A planning inspector’s report into the planned Holocaust Memorial near the Palace of Westminster is due to be submitted to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick by today following a lengthy public inquiry which concluded in 2020. The planning application for the memorial was called in after being rejected by the local council amid opposition to its location at Victoria Tower Gardens, and the memorial still enjoys significant cross-party support in Westminster despite warnings over its location. Jenrick’s decision is expected to be issued shortly after the report’s submission.
AstraZeneca is the latest COVID-19 vaccine producer to release Q1 earnings following Johnson & Johnson’s strong results last week. The UK drugmaker has endured a turbulent quarter, with its vaccine temporarily halted in several European countries and restricted in the UK to over-30s amid links to blood clotting, and the company’s share price has fluctuated accordingly. However sales of AZ’s other drugs remain buoyant, so even with these COVID-related hiccups the company will be confident of meeting its February forecast.
Today marks the beginning of the end of “America’s longest war” as US troops begin an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan. President Biden announced on 14 April that the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks would mark the new deadline to remove all troops from the country, reneging on a peace agreement brokered with the Taliban last year. Though promising to continue diplomatic support, the move confirms Biden’s commitment to ending the decades-long cycle of involvement that has led to the death of over 2,300 US troops and hundreds of thousands of Afghans .
Festival Republic hosts an outdoor gig with 5,000 people, headlined by Blossoms (pictured), in Liverpool’s Sefton Park as part of the government’s Events Research Programme. Following in the footsteps of other Merseyside-based events earlier in the week, attendees will have to be tested before and after the event, but are not required to socially distance or wear face coverings. The pilot events are the first step towards rejuvenating the beleaguered arts industry in the UK, but come as the government faces continued criticism over its refusal to back a COVID-19 cancellation insurance scheme. A handful of this summer’s festivals have already been cancelled, despite being planned for after the 21 June target date for lifting restrictions, blaming uncertainty and the lack of insurance.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.
Picture: PA Wire/Andrew Milligan