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News diary 29 April-5 May: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange due in court for first US extradition hearing

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

Westminster is back in full swing following the Easter recess, and Theresa May returns to Downing Street having seen off further manoeuvring for an internal leadership challenge.

The failed attempt to change the 1922 Committee’s rules regarding a vote of no confidence has done little to steady the ship at Number 10 however, with May now having to re-focus on the task of passing her EU Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons.

With some circles predicting the party is also likely to suffer heavy losses in Thursday’s local elections, a much needed upturn in fortunes for the May premiership still seems a way off.

Brexit is brought back into focus on Monday, as Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier delivers a lecture on the future of the continent. Barnier told the European Parliament at the start of this month that a no-deal departure for the UK is now “very likely”, but has since suggested that the pursuit of a customs union could prove to be Whitehall’s best immediate approach.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Joe Biden holds his first campaign event after officially entering the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The former vice president holds a rally in Pittsburgh, where he is expected to unveil his plans to “build a middle class”.

Numerous polls have Biden currently leading a packed Democratic field, though the race to challenge Donald Trump on election day is likely to be one of the most hotly contested in recent memory.

Tuesday marks the beginning of public hearings in the Infected Blood Inquiry, an independent investigation into how thousands of patients were given contaminated blood or blood products by NHS England in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

The infected patients were contaminated with Factor VIII, a plasma derivative that had been sourced from HIV- or Hepatitis C-infected prisoners and drug addicts; some victims have recently raised concerns of a potential “cover-up” ahead of the public hearings.

After a 30-year rule, Japanese Emperor Akihito abdicates the Chrysanthemum Throne, bringing an end to the country’s Heisei era. The Emperor took part in what is likely to be his final official duty on 26 April as he prepares to hand the reins of power to his son, Naruhito.

Japan’s new emperor officially ascends the throne on Wednesday, and is widely expected to usher in a more modern approach to the royal image.

A packed schedule for Theresa May on Wednesday sees her appearing before the House of Commons for her weekly round of PMQs at midday, and then before a Liaison Committee session dedicated to Brexit from 3pm.

Numerous reports have suggested May is targeting a new deadline of 30 June to pass her Brexit deal, though Downing Street is facing down accusations from the opposition that key concessions to win cross-party support have not been forthcoming.

Committee members are sure to pull no punches in their session with the PM, particularly with the goal posts having now moved significantly since her last appearance in November.

The US Senate Judiciary Committee holds a much-anticipated evidence session with Attorney General Bill Barr, with the Mueller report into Russian interference set to dominate proceedings.

Democrats have accused Barr of spinning its findings in the Administration’s favour, after the attorney general claimed President Trump had been “absolved of collusion and obstruction”. With Barr facing a separate hearing before a US House of Representatives committee on Thursday, the battle between spin and facts will continue to loom large over Capitol Hill.

Voters in England and Northern Ireland head to the polls on Thursday to take part in local council elections. With the Conservatives expected to suffer heavy losses, the election is being touted as the first major test for the establishment since the attempts to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the EU began in earnest.

Labour, UKIP, and the Liberal Democrats are all predicting gains, and a disastrous result for the Tories is likely to see further calls for Theresa May to set out a formal timeline for her departure.

Three weeks on from his dramatic arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (pictured) appears for an extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

The request has been lodged by the United States, which is pursuing charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in connection with the documents provided by Chelsea Manning in 2010.

In developments which are likely to be explored in future hearings, a UN representative has suggested there are “strong indications” that Assange was subjected to a breach in privacy during his time in the embassy – backing up similar claims lodged by Wikileaks.

On Friday, Education Secretary Damian Hinds delivers a keynote speech at the National Association of Head Teachers’ annual conference. Hinds’ speech comes after a spate of criticism from campaigning group Worth Less?, made up of some 7,000 headteachers, for his refusal to meet with them to listen to their experiences of funding cuts.

Analysis from the House of Commons Library earlier this year found that spending on education as a share of GDP fell by 25 per cent between 2011/12 and 2018.

Jayda Fransen, former deputy leader of the far-right group “Britain First”, is expected to be sentenced on Friday having been convicted of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour after a speech at a rally in Belfast last year. While Fransen was convicted in March, current Britain First leader Paul Golding and two others were acquitted on similar hate speech-related charges.

Saturday, otherwise known as Star Wars day by fans (May the Fourth/Force Be With You), sees the Scottish Conservative Conference in Aberdeen coincide with the Scottish Independence march in Glasgow.

The conference, addressed by party leader Ruth Davidson, comes after a motion was put to the Scottish Conservatives as to whether the party should amend its constitution to cut ties with the main UK party. While reports suggest the motion is likely to be downvoted, it’s a sign that the UK party’s divisions over Brexit have made Scottish Conservatives uneasy.

The Scottish Independence march, meanwhile, follows First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that the SNP wants to implement another independence referendum before Scottish parliamentary elections in 2021 if the UK leaves the EU. Organisers are hoping to attract 100,000 supporters.

On the other side of the world, the week’s second royal changing of the guard takes place in Thailand with the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The official ascension follows the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016, prompting a year of mourning before Vajiralongkorn could be formally crowned.

In Sydney, Rugby Australia holds a code of conduct hearing for Israel Folau, whose contract has been terminated after a highly controversial post on Instagram where he warned that homosexuals are “destined for hell”. The fullback is using this hearing to challenge Rugby Australia’s decision, and has often been vocal about his religious beliefs.

The body failed to sanction Folau when he replied to an Instagram post in April 2018 saying that homosexuals would “go to hell”. The story also made waves in the UK when England’s Billy Vunipola attracted controversy for sharing his own thoughts on Folau’s actions.

Sunday rounds off the week with the start of a two-day meeting of G7 environment, ocean and energy ministers in Metz, France. Reports suggest that 15 additional countries will join the meeting, and comes amid a series of global protests against government and big business inaction over climate change.

Panama heads to the polls to elect a new parliament and president. Tackling corruption is high on the agenda for prospective voters, but reports suggest the candidates seeking to take over from incumbent President Juan Carlos Varela, who cannot run for a second consecutive term, are seen as largely uninspiring or uncommitted to enacting fundamental change.

Panama was at the forefront of international news in 2016 after the leaking of the “Panama papers”, which showed firms in the country were aiding with global money laundering and tax dodging.

Sunday also marks the start of the holy month of Ramadan, observed by Muslims worldwide with dawn until dusk fasts, communal night time iftars, and good deeds.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

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