Trump awaits trial in the Senate

Donald Trump has been impeached – again. So what now?

Donald Trump waves as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on 12 January
image captionDonald Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice

The former president is the first in US history to have been charged with misconduct – or impeached – twice by the lower chamber of US Congress.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives accused Mr Trump of encouraging violence with his false claims of election fraud and egging on a mob to storm the Capitol on 6 January.

Some Republicans also backed impeachment in that historic vote.

What happens next?

Mr Trump, a Republican, now faces trial in the upper chamber, the Senate. 

A two-thirds majority in the Senate means a conviction. 

If Mr Trump is convicted, senators could also vote to bar him from ever holding public office again.

OK, when is the trial?

It is set to start next month.

Before that, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, needs to send the article of impeachment – the charge of incitement laid out and approved by the lower chamber – to the Senate.

She is set to do that on 25 January. According to the Constitution, that triggers the trial phase which must begin by 13:00 (local) the following day.

But the new Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has agreed to a request from the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, for more time during the pre-trial phase. So the trial itself will begin on 9 February.

Can he be tried now he has left?

It’s never happened before so it’s untested and the US Constitution doesn’t say.

Impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon were ended when he quit in 1974.

So Mr Trump could take his case to the Supreme Court, claiming his trial was unconstitutional.

Some lower ranked officials have been impeached after leaving office.

Would Mr Trump be convicted in the Senate?

Democrats only hold half the 100 seats so they would require 17 Republicans to vote against someone from their own party.

That’s a tall order from a party that has largely remained publicly loyal to Mr Trump.

But 10 Republicans in the House supported impeachment and a couple of senators have indicated they are open to it.

Even Mitch McConnell says he has not yet made up his mind how he will vote.

Could Trump run for president again if convicted?

If he is convicted by the Senate, lawmakers could hold another vote to block him from running for elected office again – which he had indicated he planned to do in 2024. 

This could be the biggest consequence of this impeachment.

If he is convicted, a simple majority of senators would be needed to block Mr Trump from holding “any office of honour, trust or profit under the United States”.

So 50 senators plus a casting vote from Vice-President Kamala Harris would be enough to damn Mr Trump’s hopes of political power.

This could be appealing to Republicans hoping to run for president in the future and those who want Mr Trump out of the party.

What about other benefits?

There has been talk of Mr Trump losing benefits granted to his predecessors under the 1958 Former Presidents Act, which include a pension and health insurance, and potentially a lifetime security detail at taxpayers’ expense. 

However, Mr Trump is likely to keep these benefits if he is convicted after leaving office.

What was his first impeachment for again?

That was over his dealings with Ukraine, although he denied any wrongdoing.

He was accused of pressing the country’s leader to open an investigation into Mr Biden, then his emerging rival for the White House, and his son Hunter.

Mr Trump appeared to use military aid as leverage. He was impeached by the House and cleared by the then Republican-controlled Senate.

Italian PM: Giuseppe Conte vows to take legal action against Pfizer and AstraZeneca

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says a delay in the supply of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca is “unacceptable”.

Both companies have warned they will not be able to deliver vaccines to the EU as agreed due to production issues.

Mr Conte has accused them of serious contract violations.

A senior Italian health official has warned that the country will have to rethink its vaccination programme if supply issues continue.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University, has not yet been given EU approval; however the bloc’s drug regulator is expected to give it the green light at the end of this month.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said on Friday that “initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated” without giving further details.

Officials have not confirmed publicly how big the shortfall will be, but an unnamed EU official told Reuters news agency that deliveries would be reduced to 31m – a cut of 60% – in the first quarter of this year.

The drug firm had been set to deliver about 80m doses to the 27 nations by March, according to the official who spoke to Reuters. 

Last week Pfizer announced it was slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that will boost capacity. The EU has ordered 600 million doses from Pfizer. 

On Saturday, Mr Conte wrote on Facebook: “Our vaccination plan … has been drawn up on the basis of contractual pledges freely undertaken by pharmaceutical companies with the European Commission.”

“Such delays in deliveries represent serious contractual violations, which cause enormous damage to Italy and other countries,” he added.

Italy’s Health Minister Franco Locatelli said Pfizer deliveries were 29% lower than planned this week but the levels were expected to return to those agreed by 1 February.

Mr Conte vowed to use “all available legal tools”.

Poland has also vowed to take action over the delay.

What is happening elsewhere in Europe?

Austrian media have reported that only 600,000 of 2m AstraZeneca doses promised by the end of March will arrive in the country on time, with the remaining 1.4m now being delivered in April.

A delay would be “completely unacceptable”, Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Friday.

View original tweet on Twitter

Hungary’s government, which has complained over the time it is taking EU regulators to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has reached a deal with Russia to buy up large quantities of its Sputnik V vaccine, even though it has not received EU approval.

European Council President Charles Michel, who led a call with EU leaders this week, said on Thursday that officials were considering all ideas to try and stop future vaccine delays.

“All possible means will be examined to ensure rapid supply, including early distribution to avoid delays,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Mr Michel both say they are still aiming for the target of 70% of the EU population being vaccinated by summer.

There has been criticism and frustration across the region about the speed of vaccination roll-outs.

Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US are all well ahead of EU nations in terms of doses given per capita so far.

Vaccination does by population graphic

The European Commission has co-ordinated orders for all member states, with vaccines then distributed based on their population size.

Vaccines are seen by public health experts as an important part of a route out of the Covid-19 crisis, with many European nations struggling to cope with a deadly surge of the virus over the winter period.

Borders to remain open

The total number of German Covid-19 deaths climbed above 50,000 on Friday – a day after the country warned that it could close its borders if other EU countries were less strict in controlling the virus. Berlin sounded the alarm amid rising concern about new variants.

EU leaders agreed late on Thursday to keep their internal borders open but warned non-essential travel might need to be restricted to curb the spread of the virus.

Ms von der Leyen said Thursday that more testing and “targeted measures” were needed throughout the EU in order to keep internal and external borders open. 

For its part, France said it would impose tighter travel restrictions for European arrivals from Sunday, requiring a negative PCR Covid test within three days of travel.

In the Netherlands, a ban on all flights from the UK, South Africa and South American countries came into effect on Saturday to try and prevent new coronavirus variants gaining a foothold.

Looking ahead to the future, officials from EU nations reliant on tourism – including Spain and Greece – have floated the possibility of using vaccination certificates to allow for cross-border travel but there has been scepticism within the bloc.

Larry King, US talk show host dies aged 87

Veteran US television host Larry King has died aged 87, his production company said.

King was among America’s most prominent interviewers of celebrities, presidents and other newsmakers during a half-century career. (Reuters: Fred Prouser)

The former CNN talk show host was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for coronavirus treatment at the beginning of January.

The Peabody Award-winning broadcaster was among America’s most prominent interviewers of celebrities, presidents and other newsmakers during a half-century career that included 25 years with a nightly show on CNN.

He retired from Larry King Live in 2010, but did not stay off the airwaves for long, and in 2012 began hosting Larry King Now on Ora TV, an on-demand digital network he co-founded.

He has had medical issues in recent decades, including several heart attacks and quintuple bypass surgery in 1987.

Ora Media confirmed King’s death in a statement tweeted from his account. It did not specify the cause of death.

“For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry’s many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster,” the statement read.

“Additionally, while it was his name appearing in the shows’ titles, Larry always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs and himself as merely an unbiased conduit between the guest and audience.

“Whether he was interviewing a US president, foreign leader, celebrity, scandal-ridden personage or an everyman, Larry liked to ask short, direct and uncomplicated questions. He believed concise questions usually provided the best answers, and he was not wrong in that belief.”

‘Unique and lasting talent’

King carried out interviews with every sitting US president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama and a number of world leaders. His other high-profile guests included Dr Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Lady Gaga.

Born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, King rose to fame in the 1970s with his radio programme The Larry King Show, on the commercial network Mutual Broadcasting System.

In 1985 he launched Larry King Live on the fledgling CNN, and became one of the network’s biggest stars. The programme, broadcast around the world, was a success with audiences, with King answering thousands of phone calls from viewers.

He earned a number of honours, including two Peabody awards, but was also criticised for his non-confrontational approach and open-ended questions. King boasted of not doing much research for the interviews so, he said, he could learn along with viewers.

By 2010 his ratings had dropped significantly, with critics saying King’s approach felt outdated in an era of more aggressive interviewing styles. King then announced his retirement, saying: “It’s time to hang up my nightly suspenders.”

In his final programme on CNN, he told his viewers: “I don’t know what to say, except to you, my audience, thank you. Instead of goodbye, how about so long?”.

View original tweet on Twitter

CNN replaced him with British journalist and broadcaster Piers Morgan, whose programme King criticised for being “too much about him”.

Morgan, whose programme was cancelled three years later, said on Twitter on Saturday:“Larry King was a hero of mine until we fell out after I replaced him at CNN & he said my show was ‘like watching your mother-in-law go over a cliff in your new Bentley.’ (He married 8 times so a mother-in-law expert).”

But, Morgan added, King “was a brilliant broadcaster & masterful TV interviewer.”

In a statement, CNN president Jeff Zucker said: “The scrappy young man from Brooklyn had a history-making career spanning radio and television. His curiosity about the world propelled his award-winning career in broadcasting, but it was his generosity of spirit that drew the world to him.”

Most recently, King hosted another programme, Larry King Now, broadcast on Hulu and RT, Russia’s state-controlled international broadcaster.

A Kremlin spokesman was quoted as saying by state RIA Novosti news agency: “King repeatedly interviewed Putin. The president has always appreciated his great professionalism and unquestioned journalistic authority.”

Outside broadcasting, King founded the Larry King Cardiac Foundation in 1988, a charity which helps to fund heart treatment for those with limited financial means or no medical insurance.

By: Kwamed2k

Alexei Navalny: Dozens detained in protests across Russia

Dozens of people have been detained as police try to stop nationwide protests in Russia in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Police are also breaking up groups of his supporters gathered in the capital Moscow, ahead of a protest there.

Thousands of people have already taken part in rallies in Russia’s Far East, where there were also arrests.

Mr Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile critic, called for protests after his arrest last weekend.

He was detained last Sunday after he flew back to Moscow from Berlin, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent attack in Russia last August.

On his return, he was immediately taken into custody and found guilty of violating parole conditions. He says it is a trumped-up case designed to silence him, and called on his supporters to protest.

Several of Mr Navalny’s close aides, including a spokeswoman, have also been detained in the run up to Saturday’s protests.

Prior to the protests, Russian authorities had promised a tough crackdown, with police saying any unauthorised demonstrations and provocations will be “immediately suppressed”.

What’s happened so far?

Russia’s Far East saw some of the first protests on Saturday, but reports conflict over how many of Mr Navalny’s supporters turned up.

One independent news source, Sota, said at least 3,000 people had joined a demonstration in the city of Vladivostok but local authorities there put the figure at 500.

AFP footage showed riot police in Vladivostok running into a crowd, and beating some of the protesters with batons

Meanwhile protesters braved temperatures of -50C (-58F) in the Siberian city of Yakutsk.

OVD Info, an independent NGO that monitors rallies, said that more than 200 people had been detained so far in 30 cities across the country.

Riot police officers detain a participant in an unauthorised rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in Khabarovsk
image captionPolice warned that unsanctioned protests – such as here in Khabarovsk – would be “immediately suppressed”
Law enforcement officers stand guard during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Yakutsk, Russia January 23, 2021
image captionProtesters – and police – braved freezing conditions in Yakutsk
A participant holds a poster reading "Strength is in the Truth" during an unauthorized rally Khabarovsk
image captionA demonstrator at the rally in Khabarovsk holds up a sign saying: “Strength is in the truth”

Unauthorised rallies are planned in more than 60 cities across the country, with one in Moscow’s central Pushkin Square just getting under way.

A number of people have already been detained at the square, where police have erected metal barriers to deter protesters. Reuters quotes a witness saying at least 100 people may have been detained there.

Meanwhile, there were reports of disruption to mobile phone and internet coverage in Russia on Saturday – though it is not known if this is related to the protests.

The social media app TikTok, which is popular among teenagers, had been flooded with videos from Russians promoting Saturday’s protests and viral messages about Mr Navalny.

Russia’s education ministry has told parents not to allow their children to attend any demonstrations.

Which aides were detained?

Several of Mr Navalny’s key aides were taken into police custody in the days leading up to Saturday’s protests, including his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, and one of his lawyers, Lyubov Sobol. They face fines or short jail terms.

Ms Sobol has since been released, but Ms Yarmysh has now been jailed for nine days.

Kira Yarmysh entering a Moscow court, 22 Jan 21
image captionNavalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh is accused of violating protest laws

Prominent Navalny activists are also being held in the cities of Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and Krasnodar.

In a push to gain support ahead of the protests, Mr Navalny’s team released a video about a luxury Black Sea resort that they allege belongs to President Putin – an accusation denied by the Kremlin.

The video has been watched by more than 65m people.

2px presentational grey line

Why Navalny makes the Kremlin nervous

Analysis box by Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent

For a long time the Russian authorities made out that Alexei Navalny was irrelevant. Just a blogger. With a tiny following. No threat whatsoever.

Recent events suggest the opposite. First Mr Navalny was targeted with a nerve agent, allegedly by a secret group of FSB state security hitmen. Instead of investigating the poisoning, Russia is investigating him: on his return from Germany the Kremlin critic was arrested.

Having put Mr Navalny behind bars, the authorities are putting pressure on his supporters. The Kremlin’s greatest fear is of a Ukraine-style revolution in Russia that would sweep away those in power.

There’s no indication that such a scenario is imminent. But with economic problems growing, the Kremlin will worry that Mr Navalny could act as a lightning rod for protest sentiment. That explains the police crackdown on Navalny allies ahead of Saturday’s potential protests.

Plus, this is getting personal. Mr Navalny’s video about “Putin’s Palace” on the Black Sea was designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the Russian president.

2px presentational grey line

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Mr Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and the most prominent face of Russian opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

He attempted to stand in the 2018 presidential race, but was barred because of an embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia captionAlexei Navalny was filmed by the BBC saying goodbye to his wife and then being led away by authorities

An outspoken blogger, he has millions of Russian followers on social media and managed to get some supporters elected to local councils in Siberia in 2020.

Last August, Mr Navalny, 44, was almost killed in a nerve agent attack, which he blamed personally on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin denies involvement. The opposition politician’s allegations have, however, been backed up by reports from investigative journalists.

Russia has come under pressure from the US and EU to release Mr Navalny after his arrest last weekend when he returned to the country for the first time since his poisoning.

Coronavirus: EU vaccine woes mount as new delays emerge

A second coronavirus vaccine manufacturer has warned of supply issues to the European Union, compounding frustration in the bloc.

AstraZeneca said a production problem meant the number of initial doses available would be lower than expected.

The fresh blow comes after some nations’ inoculation programmes were slowed due to a cut in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The EU Health Commissioner expressed “deep dissatisfaction” at the news.

Officials have not confirmed publicly how big the shortfall will be, but an unnamed EU official told Reuters news agency that deliveries would be reduced to 31m – a cut of 60% – in the first quarter of this year.

The drug firm had been set to deliver about 80 million doses to the 27 nations by March, according to the official who spoke to Reuters.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has not yet been approved by the EU’s drug regulator but is expected to get the green light at the end of this month, paving the way for jabs to be given.

View original tweet on Twitter

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said on Friday that “initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated” without giving further details.

His written statement blamed the discrepancy on “reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain” and said the firm was continuing to ramp up production volumes.

News of the delay comes amid criticism and frustration across the region about the speed of vaccination roll-outs.

Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US are all well ahead of EU nations in terms of doses given per capita so far.

Vaccination does by population graphic

The European Commission has co-ordinated orders for all member states, with vaccines then distributed based on their population size.

Vaccines are increasingly seen by experts as the only way out of the Covid-19 crisis, with many European nations struggling to cope with a deadly surge of the virus over the winter period. 

Threats of legal action

Austrian media have reported that only 600,000 of two million AstraZeneca doses promised by the end of March will arrive in the country on time, with the remaining 1.4m now being delivered in April. 

A delay would be “completely unacceptable”, Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Friday. 

As for Pfizer, the US firm said it had to cut shipments for the next few weeks while it worked to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant. The EU has ordered 600 million doses from Pfizer.

View original tweet on Twitter

Some regions, including Germany’s most populous state North-Rhine Westphalia and parts of Italy, said earlier this week that they were suspending giving first jabs of the two-dose vaccine because of the shortages.

Italy and Poland have threatened to take legal action in response to the reduction in vaccine supply.

Meanwhile Hungary’s government, which has complained over the time it is taking EU regulators to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has reached a deal with Russia to buy up large quantities of its Sputnik V vaccine, even though it has not received EU approval.

European Council President Charles Michel, who led a call of EU leaders this week, said Thursday that officials were considering all ideas to try and stop future vaccine delays. 

“All possible means will be examined to ensure rapid supply, including early distribution to avoid delays,” he said.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Mr Michel both say they are still aiming for the target of 70% of the EU population being vaccinated by summer.

Borders to remain open

The total number of German Covid deaths climbed above 50,000 on Friday – a day after the country warned that it could close its borders if other EU countries were less strict in controlling the virus. Berlin sounded the alarm amid rising concern about new variants.

EU leaders agreed late on Thursday to keep their internal borders open but warned non-essential travel might need to be restricted to curb the spread of the virus.

Ms von der Leyen said Thursday that more testing and “targeted measures” were needed throughout the EU in order to keep internal and external borders open. 

For its part, France said it would impose tighter travel restrictions for European arrivals from Sunday, requiring a negative PCR Covid test within three days of travel.

In the Netherlands, a ban on all flights from the UK, South Africa and South American countries came into effect on Saturday to try and prevent new coronavirus variants gaining a foothold.

Looking forward to the future, officials from EU nations reliant on tourism – including Spain and Greece – have floated the possibility of using vaccination certificates to allow for cross-border travel but there has been scepticism within the bloc.

Shipping crisis: I’m being quoted £10,000 for a £1,600 container’

“We were paying £1,600 per container in November, this month we’ve been quoted over £10,000,” says Helen White.

The founder of start-up Houseof.com, which imports lighting from China, says the rise in shipping costs means she’s making a loss on what she sells.

She’s one of many UK importers facing soaring freight costs amid a global shipping crisis that may last months.

A shortage of empty shipping containers in Asia and bottlenecks at the UK’s deep sea ports are behind the problems.

It was hoped the backlogs could be cleared during the Chinese New Year holiday in February, but instead a coronavirus outbreak in China is adding to the uncertainty facing firms. 

In the UK the difficulties in international shipping have coincided with problems faced by businesses trading with the EU after Brexit.

One Manchester-based freight forwarder said the logistics industry is facing the most challenging conditions he’s seen in the 17 years he’s been in the business.

Craig Poole from Cardinal Maritime said during lockdowns, people have been turning to online shopping, and that’s causing a surge in demand for goods from China.

Craig Poole
image captionFreight forwarder Craig Poole says the logistics industry is facing hugely challenging conditions

But some companies can’t absorb the skyrocketing freight costs that shipping lines are charging. That could lead to higher prices for consumers or businesses having to close. 

“The really unfortunate thing is, the small businesses who can’t afford to pay those rates are going to go under as a result,” Mr Poole said.

‘Making a loss’

Helen White’s lighting range is designed in the UK and manufactured in Guangzhou, China.

She said the six-fold increase in shipping costs is hard to take, especially when getting hold of a container “is like gold dust”.

“It’s really hard for a small business to absorb those costs. We’ll be making a loss on the goods we’re selling.”

a promotional photo of lights
image captionLighting seller houseof.com is struggling to import stock from China

At the other end of the supply chain, Chinese manufacturers and logistics firms say they are equally frustrated.

Johnny Tseng is the owner and director of J&B Clothing Company Ltd., which manufactures garments for some of the UK’s most popular fashion sites including Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing.

He’s been supplying clothes to British retailers for more than 40 years, but he says his family-run firm won’t be able to absorb inflated shipping rates for much longer. 

“To be honest I don’t even know how we can survive if we carry on shipping things at this kind of cost.”

Johnny Tseng in front of fashion pieces he sells to UK labels including a pink furry coat and camel trousers
image captionJohnny Tseng says sky-high shipping rates are putting his business at risk.

He says he’s now being quoted $14,000 to ship a container to the UK, when the usual price is $2,500.

The shortage of empty containers in China and congestion at UK ports caused some of his stock to miss the busy Christmas trading period. Now some customers are holding orders for their Autumn-Winter collections until next year. 

“It’s chaos,” he said. “We are making a loss. We take it as a loss leader and keep our fingers crossed it will go back to normal after Chinese New Year, but it is a major issue if it persists this way.”

‘Months of delay’

Usually during the Chinese New Year holiday, factories in China shut down for two weeks. There were hopes the pause in production would give UK ports a chance to clear the backlog of ships waiting to dock, and encourage shipping lines to move more empty containers back to Asia, which is a less profitable journey.

A Chinese lantern
image captionChinese workers usually travel home for the Chinese New Year holiday.

But rising numbers of coronavirus cases have prompted the Chinese authorities to stagger factory closing dates so that not all workers are travelling to their home regions at the same time. A worsening outbreak could lead to travel restrictions, in which case some factories may not stop production at all.

Craig Poole says some companies have been caught out by factories closing earlier than planned.

“A lot of businesses that can’t get those goods away are delaying orders until after Chinese New Year, so this situation could continue ’til March,” he said.

Patrick Lee from the Hong Kong-based Unique Logistics International said it could be even longer than that.

“Middle of the year at the earliest is what we’re hearing from end customers in the UK, and also from some of our people in the industry. Some of the carriers as well,” he said.

Full capacity

Mr Lee has called on the shipping lines to add more ships to help ease the backlog of stock orders building up at warehouses across China.

“They are increasing sailing but can increase a lot more. There are idle ships out there that they can reactivate without too much difficulty,” he said. 

Hong Kong-based logistics specialist Patrick Lee holding a model shipping container
image captionThe disruption could last for several months, according to logistics specialist Patrick Lee

But a spokeswoman for the World Shipping Council said carriers are using all available capacity.

“The demand for transportation service far exceeds supply. As in any free market, this puts upward pressure on rates,” she said. 

UK premium 

Shipping lines have been trying to drive down demand from British importers by charging a premium for deliveries to the UK, or bypassing the country’s ports altogether.

One shipping line recently offered freight rates of $12,050 for a 40ft container from China to Southampton, but charged just $8,450 for the same container to travel from China to Rotterdam, Hamburg, or Antwerp.

The UK’s largest container port at Felixstowe has been experiencing long delays since October. Congestion has also been a problem at the Port of Southampton, albeit to a lesser extent.

The bottlenecks were initially caused by a surge in imports as business activity picked up after the first wave of the pandemic. Huge shipments of PPE and the usual Christmas rush added to container volumes and ports struggled to cope. 

A container ship berthing, stacked high with cargo
image captionThe UK’s largest container port at Felixstowe has been experiencing bottlenecks for months

“Most of the carriers just don’t want UK cargo because of the issues when the vessels dock, so mainly they’re favouring European ports and we are having to truck containers over,” said freight forwarder Craig Poole.

He said that adds a cost of up to £2,000 per container, and takes an extra seven to ten days to reach the delivery point in the UK. 

For business-owners like Helen White , the difficulties affecting global shipping can’t be solved quickly enough.

“Lots of little start-ups are really hurting,” she said. “It has been paired with logistical nightmares across Europe as well. It just feels like logistics is falling apart at the moment. It’s hard to see where the resolution is.”

What next for Trump and “Trumpism”?: Stripped of Presidential powers and silent online

Donald Trump boarded Air Force One for the last time on Wednesday with a wave. As Frank Sinatra’s My Way blared over the loudspeakers at Joint Base Andrews, the soon-to-be-ex-president took off for his new home in Florida.

Although he had just finished promising a small gathering of supporters that he would be back “in some form”, the future for Trump – and the political movement he rode to victory in 2016 – is murky.

Just two months ago, he seemed poised to be a powerful force in American politics even after his November defeat. He was still beloved by Republicans, feared and respected by the party’s politicians and viewed positively by nearly half of Americans, according to public opinion surveys.

Then Trump spent two months trafficking in unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud, feuded with party officials in battleground states, unsuccessfully campaigned for two Republican incumbent senators in Georgia’s run-off elections and instigated a crowd of supporters that would turn into a mob that attacked the US Capitol.

He’s been impeached (again) by a bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives and could, if convicted in the Senate, be permanently banned from running for public office.

Over his five-year career in politics, Trump has wriggled free from political predicaments that would sink most others. He has been declared dead more times than Freddy Krueger. Yet he always seemed unsinkable; a submarine in a world of rowing boats.

Until now.

Stripped of his presidential powers and silenced by social media, he faces daunting challenges, both legal and financial. Can he still plot a successful political comeback? Will a Mar-a-Lago exile be his Elba or St Helena? And who might the tens of millions of Americans who supported him turn to instead?

A solid Maga base

In the days following the US Capitol riot, Trump’s overall public approval rating precipitously dropped to the mid-30s – some of the lowest of his entire presidency. At first blush, the numbers would indicate that his future political prospects have been mortally wounded.

Trump speaks before boarding Air Force One for the last time

A deeper dive, however, paints a less dire picture for the ex-president. While Democrats, independents and some moderate Republicans are against him, his Republican base appears to be intact.

“I don’t think what we’re seeing suggests he loses political relevance and resonance,” says Clifford Young, president of US public affairs at the public opinion company Ipsos. “Anyone who says that is kidding themselves. He still has a significant base.”

Many Trump supporters fully believe Trump’s assertion that the election was stolen by Democrats, and Republicans, across multiple states. They’ve seen reports in fringe conservative media that the attack on the Capitol was instigated by antifa leftists and dismiss the preponderance of evidence that has led to the arrest of numerous right-wing militants and pro-Trump activists.

Gary Keiffer is a 67-year-old former Democrat from Beckley, West Virginia, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. He says the ex-president was right to raise questions about the election, he suspects left-wing activists were behind the Capitol attack, he still fully supports the ex-president, and he hopes he’ll run again in four years.

“He did so much for our country,” Keiffer says. “I’ve never seen a president do as much as he has done and lose an election – and he didn’t lose an election.”

Trump may have a lot of problems, but the loyalty of his base – the folks who go to the rallies and buy Maga flags and signs – isn’t one.

The party divides

Donald Trump ran for president as an outsider challenging the Republican establishment. His own party’s leaders and rivals for the presidential nomination were as much a part of what he derisively referred to as “the swamp” as the Democrats.

With his victory, he became the Republican establishment – and all but the most recalcitrant never-Trumpers eventually bent to his will.

They bent, according to Liam Donovan, a Republican lobbyist and former Senate campaign strategist, because that’s where the party membership took them. Trump appointed top party officials, like Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel. And at the state and local level, Republican Party officials are Trump true believers.

“The state party leaders are the activists, not the elite,” says Donovan. “The rank and file are hardcore Republicans, and hardcore Republicans are hardcore Trump people. He has absolutely converted them.”

When controversies came – the violence following a white nationalist march in Virginia, recordings of immigrant children crying because of the administration’s family separation policy, the use of teargas and brute force on Black Lives Matter protesters near the White House, the impeachment over pressuring Ukraine’s president for political help and any number of intemperate tweets – the standard response from Republican politicians was to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.

In the final weeks of Trump’s presidency, however, cracks have begun to show.

President Donald Trump speaks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (left)
image captionPresident Donald Trump speaks with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (left)

Before a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol on 6 January, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned the president’s efforts to undermine confidence in the 2020 presidential election results threatened to put American democracy into a “death spiral”. After the violence, his aides indicated that he was “pleased” with efforts in the House of Representatives to impeach the president for inciting the insurrection – a vote that 10 Republicans, including a member of the Republican leadership, broke party ranks to support.

Earlier this week McConnell made his most direct comments on the riot, saying that the mob was “fed lies” and “provoked” by Trump and other powerful people.

McConnell’s moves are the clearest sign that at least some Republicans are looking to put daylight between the party and Trump.

Others, however – such as the 138 House Republicans who voted to challenge the results of Pennsylvania’s presidential vote after the Capitol Hill riot or the 197 who voted against Trump’s impeachment – are sticking with the ex-president.

“President Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party and the America First movement,” Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida, a loyal Trump supporter, tweeted on Thursday.

If anything, Donovan says, Republicans in the House better reflect the party’s centre of gravity given that, unlike the Senate, they have to stand for election every two years. If McConnell and the Republican top leadership want to make a clean break with Trump, it could tear the party apart.

A corporate revolt

For decades, the Republican Party has operated as a fusion between social conservatives and business interests. The latter appreciated the party’s advocacy of lower taxes and reduced regulation, and tolerated the former’s support for abortion bans, religious freedom initiatives, gun rights and other hot-button cultural issues.

Trump’s presidency, and his efforts to expand the Republican coalition to include working-class whites through anti-immigration and anti-trade policies, have put pressure on this alliance. In 2018, suburbanites – the kind of people who work at and run those pro-Republican businesses – trended toward the Democrats.

Then, after the Capitol Hill riot, the dam broke. A slew of big companies – including Walmart, JPMorganChase, AT&T, Comcast and Amazon – announced they were either suspending their political donations or withdrawing support specifically from Republican politicians who supported Trump’s challenge to the presidential election results.

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Big business could, once the political waters calm, return to its normal giving patterns, says Donovan, or it could decide that their interests no longer clearly align with a Republican Party beholden to Trump.

“This has been a long time coming,” Donovan says. “We’re past the point where business is going to cast their lot exclusively with Republicans.”

Corporate contributions make up only part of the Republican Party’s funding, but the speed and severity of the move caught many conservatives off-guard. And the latest moves might instigate further efforts by the party leaders – the ones who pay attention to the dollars and where they come from – to reject Trump’s policies and his style of politics.

The evangelical bargain

If the corporate wing of the Republican Party is contemplating a break with Trumpism, social conservatives may not be far behind. The strong evangelical backing for a man with two divorces, multiple affair allegations and intemperate personality always seemed counterintuitive, but religious conservatives stuck by the president in 2020 even when the moderate suburbanites peeled off.

Part of it can be explained by Trump’s ability to fill more than 200 federal court vacancies, including three Supreme Court seats, over the course of his four years. His selection of one of their own, Mike Pence, as vice-president also helped. Policy wise, the Trump administration advanced a social agenda that was also popular with Christian conservatives. It fought against religious limitations in courts and adjusted regulations, such as contraceptive care mandates in federal healthcare law, in their favour. 

Attendees pray together before President Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the King Jesus International Ministry during a "Evangelicals for Trump" rally in Miami
image captionAttendees pray at a January 2020 Evangelicals for Trump rally in Florida

With Trump out of power, however, some evangelicals may be rethinking their support of Trump and his political agenda.

“We worship the magi, not Maga,” headlined a piece in Christianity Today by Anglican minister Tish Harrison Warren.

“The violence wrought by Trump supporters storming the Capitol is anti-epiphany,” she writes. “It is dark and based in untruth. The symbols of faith – Jesus’ name, cross, and message – have been co-opted to serve the cultish end of Trumpism.”

She goes on to blame religious leaders in the US for allowing their desire for political power to cloud their moral compass – and said a reckoning within the religious community is near.

Deeana Lusk, a legal assistant from Derby, Kansas, says faith is important in her voting and Trump wasn’t her first pick in the 2016 Republican primaries. Still, she voted for him in the general election that year and in 2020.

She says she won’t give a lot of weight to Trump’s endorsements and advocacy going forward, however, and if Trump decides to run again she’ll definitely shop around for other possibilities.

“The truth of the matter is no one’s perfect,” she says. “However, there are thousands of candidates out there who would support religious freedom, and I think ultimately we are going to be looking for that candidate.”

Life without Trump

There is, of course, the possibility that Trump – despite his protestations and promises – fades from the political scene. Talk of new political parties, new media empires and new presidential campaigns could subside.

Or, perhaps at least 17 Republicans in the Senate could join the 50 Democrats in convicting the ex-president of his insurrection impeachment charges and banning him from public office. Such an outcome is not outside the realm of possibility.

Even if he survives impeachment, Trump faces some very real legal challenges. New York prosecutors are investigating his payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Georgia is looking into his phone call pressuring Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find votes” in the November election. And federal prosecutors might review his words and actions prior to the attack on the Capitol.

He also will have his hands full keeping his business empire afloat, as it faces declining revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic and a tarnished brand. Trump’s company owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans due in the next few years and Deutsche Bank, his most reliable lender, recently dropped him as a client.

Trump International hotel in DC

A political revival, in other words, could be a low priority in the days ahead. At that point, Trump the man, would become separated from Trumpism as a movement.

“I think it would relegate him again to the status of a celebrity and media elite with opinions on politics,” says Lauren Wright, a political scientist at Princeton University.

She adds that it might be difficult for another Republican to pick up Trump’s political mantle and carry it forward.

“I think what makes Trump distinct is not the policy message, it’s the way it’s packaged, and that comes from an entertainment skill set, and that comes from a showbusiness background,” she says. “A traditional politician cannot perform in the same way.”

For Trumpism to be a success, Republicans will have to find another celebrity – or go back to the traditional Republican values of earlier candidates like Mitt Romney and John McCain.

Donovan isn’t so sure Republicans can – or even will want to – turn back the clock.

“What Trump proved is being a slave to whatever conservative orthodoxy says is not necessary or even necessarily advantageous,” he says.

Trump speaks at rally

Trump ran against free trade, open immigration and an aggressive foreign policy, and was an ardent critic of cutting Social Security. Other Republican politicians might decide Trump has proven that heterodoxy isn’t so risky.

“A lot of people are playing with different things Trump has done,” he says, “but I don’t think anyone has figured it out yet.”

They may not have to figure it out, however. Even after all the events of recent days, Donald Trump may not be done yet.

Frank-talking female airline boss shocks Tunisia

The newly appointed head of Tunisia’s state airline has been making waves because of her frank comments about the situation at TunisAir and her criticism of a union-organised sit-in.

Olfa Hamdi, a 35-year old businesswoman and engineer, said those participating were not TunisAir employees, were preventing others from working and were not helping the situation at the cash-strapped state carrier.

“When I took over TunisAir, I found planes that were grounded over $200 [£146], I found scared people, and people who couldn’t take decisions, I found a painful situation… and you know, I’ve paid from my own pocket for catering to work and flights to take off,” she said.

“I found men crying! I have been working for 10 days, 10 days… and then I’m met by the unions, who bring me people who are not the sons of TunisAir, for a sit-in in our operational centre, which carries a security risk.”

The secretary-general of the union hit back in a local radio broadcast, saying those at the sit-in were contracted to TunisAir and had worked more than six years there but had had no work since the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Hamdi said she sympathised, but her comments underlie the fact that TunisAir is facing bankruptcy and its state of affairs has worsened since the global pandemic.

Her tirade was videoed and has caused a stir online, with many supporting her courage for speaking out, but others questioning the manner in which she did it.

At one point she told a man, who could be heard but not seen in the video, to “shut up”, when he tried to comment.

The mixed public reaction has also spurred debate about sexism, with some wondering if a man would have been met with the same criticism.

US Intelligence: Wuhan scientists had symptoms before first reported cases

The Department of State says researchers in the Wuhan lab were experimenting with a virus genetically similar to SARS-CoV-2.

WUHAN, CHINA - APRIL 02: (CHINA OUT) A resident crosses a road while cars wait for traffic lights on April 02, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. The government stipulates that residents with green health code can go out in public. Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus (COVID-19) first emerged last year, will lift its lockdown on April 8, local media reported. (Photo by Getty Images)
Image:The first cases of the novel coronavirus were detected in Wuhan

The US says it has intelligence that researchers in a Wuhan lab became sick with COVID-19-like symptoms in autumn 2019 – before the first identified case of the outbreak. 

A new statement from the US Department of State accuses the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of “deadly obsession with secrecy and control” and claims the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been conducting experiments with a virus genetically similar to the new coronavirus.

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The first cases of the outbreak were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan and were initially thought to have originated from a wet market.

Wuhan Institute of Virology
Image:The new claims centre around the Wuhan Institute of Virology

While most scientists believe the virus first transmitted naturally from animals to humans, others have raised the possibility it could have leaked accidentally from the secretive Wuhan lab.

The Trump administration has been particularly critical of China, especially since the new coronavirus outbreak.

According to the US government, researchers at the lab had been experimenting on RaTG13 – the bat coronavirus identified as the closest sample to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 – “under conditions that increased the risk for accidental and potentially unwitting exposure”.

Several researchers then fell ill with symptoms “consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses”, it claims.

However, officials admitted they did not know for sure where, when or how the virus initially transmitted to humans.

This photo taken on February 22, 2020 shows medical staff checking notes in an intensive care unit treating COVID-19 coronavirus patients at a hospital in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province. - China on February 26 reported 52 new coronavirus deaths, the lowest figure in more than three weeks, bringing the death toll to 2,715. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Image:Medical staff check notes at an ICU in Wuhan

“We have not determined whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China,” the statement said.

“The virus could have emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, spreading in a pattern consistent with a natural epidemic.

“Alternatively, a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak if the initial exposure included only a few individuals and was compounded by asymptomatic infection.”

The lab has denied all claims of a leak, while China has also claimed in recent months the pandemic could have originated in another country.

The state has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying the release of crucial information which allowed the virus to spread.

It has also moved to silence some in China providing first-hand accounts of the outbreak, including doctors who shared information between each other about a new respiratory illness at the start of the epidemic. Former MI6 boss says theory COVID-19 came from Wuhan lab must not be dismissed as conspiracy

Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who reported on the outbreak in Wuhan, was jailed in December for four years for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

A team from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been sent to Wuhan to investigate the source of the pandemic, although there have been some concerns the trip will be heavily controlled by Chinese authorities.

 global team of scientists led by the World Health Organization arrived on Thursday (January 14) to China's central city of Wuhan, to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Image:Members of the WHO team arriving in Wuhan

WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told Sky News the team will “look into different aspects of the early days of the pandemic”.

Asked whether the team would investigate whether the virus was produced in a laboratory, he said: “We will follow wherever science leads us.

“The majority of scientists believe there is a natural origin of the virus, we know that bats are a natural reservoir of other coronaviruses, we really want to go and see and get the data.”

New electric car battery can charge in five minutes

“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” said StoreDot’s chief executive, Dr Doron Myersdorf.

A new electric car battery that can be fully charged in five minutes has been manufactured for the first time on a normal production line in China, based on designs by Israeli company StoreDot.

The breakthrough could address a significant concern for electric car drivers – the fear of running out of power during a journey, marooning the vehicle for a couple of hours while it charges.

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“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” said StoreDot’s chief executive, Dr Doron Myersdorf.

Dr Doron Myersdorf, CEO, StoreDot
Image:Dr Doron Myersdorf, CEO of StoreDot, said the innovation may overcome ‘range anxiety’

“But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates that it is feasible and commercially ready,” Dr Myersdorf added.

The company produced 1,000 sample batteries with its manufacturing partner Eve Energy in China.

These samples, which are compliant with Li-ion battery certifications, were manufactured on a normal construction line and will be used to showcase the company’s technology to other companies.

So-called “range anxiety” is the “number one barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles”, said Dr Myersdorf.

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Fast charging lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries is a significant problem for electronics manufacturers and developers, and companies from Samsung to Daimler have invested in StoreDot.

The company’s new batteries are designed differently to standard Li-ion ones, replacing the graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles based on germanium – though they hope to move to silicon in the future.

Because the speed of the charge is based on the battery rather than the charging point, StoreDot’s invention could have a significant impact on the adoption of electric vehicles, which are facing a bottleneck in countries such as the UK that have limited charging stations.

There are more than 30,000 points currently in the UK in over 11,000 locations, and around 10,000 charge points were added in 2019 alone.

But research by Deloitte suggests the UK will need to spend £1.6bn on 28,000 more public points for the estimated seven million EVs that will be on the road by 2030.

In 2019, there were 37,850 BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) registered in the UK – up 144% on the previous year, however they still only account for 1.6% of the market.

Hybrid electric vehicles – combing an electric motor with a petrol or diesel engine – are currently more popular, making up 4.2% of the market share, but they are set to be phased out along with petrol and diesel cars by 2035.

By: Kwamed2k

Retail sales in 2020 see biggest fall since records began

British retail sales saw their largest annual fall in history last year as the impact of the pandemic took its toll.

Sales fell by 1.9% in 2020, when compared with 2019, the largest year-on-year fall since records began in 1997, official figures show.

Clothes shops were hit hard, with a record annual fall of more than 25%.

The drop came despite a slight pick-up in December, as a brief easing of some lockdown measures meant more stores were able to open.

Retail sales, including fuel, increased by 0.3% last month when compared with November.

Clothing sales also reported strong monthly growth of 21.5%, recovering from a large fall in November when non-essential retailers were closed because of lockdown restrictions.

But some sectors “were able to buck the trend in 2020”, according to the ONS.

“The increased popularity of click and collect and people buying more items from home led to a strong year for overall internet sales, with record highs for food and household goods sales online,” said deputy national statistician for Economic Statistics Jonathan Athow.

Google threatens to withdraw search engine from Australia

Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia over the nation’s attempt to make the tech giant share royalties with news publishers.

Google search page shown on smartphone

Australia is introducing a landmark law to make Google, Facebook and potentially other tech companies pay media outlets for their news content.

But the US tech giants have fought back, arguing the laws are onerous and would damage local access to services.

On Friday, Google told a Senate hearing the laws were “unworkable”.

“If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” said Mel Silva, managing director of Google Australia.

“We do not see a way, with the financial and operational risks, that we could continue to offer a service in Australia.”

Australian politicians are scheduled to debate the laws in parliament this year.

Google Search is the dominant search engine in Australia and has been described the government as a near-essential utility with little market competition.

The government has argued that because the tech giants gain customers from people who want to read the news, the tech giants should pay newsrooms a “fair” amount for their journalism.

Google’s threat to remove its primary product is its most severe yet, in a debate being closely watched globally amid increasing debate about regulating the power of big tech.

Ms Silva said the laws would set “an untenable precedent for our businesses” and were not compatible with the free-flowing share of information online or “how the internet works”.

Screenshot of the Open Letter
image captionGoogle has run ads in its browsers in Australia advocating its case

Last week, after reports surfaced in local media, Google confirmed it was blocking Australian news sites in its search results for about 1% of local users. It said it was an experiment to test the value of Australian news services.

Facebook last year also threatened to stop Australian users from sharing news stories on the platform if the law went ahead.

Nord Stream 2: MEPs call for halt to Russian gas pipeline

Germany has come under increased pressure to halt a Russian oil pipeline following the detention in Moscow of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The European Parliament has backed a call for Nord Stream 2 to be scrapped.

MEPs called on EU states to impose sanctions on any Russians involved in jailing Mr Navalny after he returned from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent attack.

The US has imposed sanctions on a Russian ship laying the pipeline.

Washington argues the project will increase Russian influence over Europe.

The US Treasury’s action against the ship Fortuna came in the final days of the Trump administration, but President Joe Biden is expected to pursue the same policy, according to his nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken. In 2016, Mr Biden said the pipeline was a “bad deal” for Europe.

Asked about the US move on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her “basic attitude” on the €10bn ($11bn) project to double Russian gas exports to Germany had not changed, but she wanted to discuss the issue with the Biden administration.

“We have to talk about which economic relations in the gas sector are acceptable with Russia and which aren’t,” she said, reminding reporters in Berlin that the US itself traded with Russia in oil.

What is left to build

Around 94% of the 2,460km (1,528-mile) pipeline has already been laid but work was halted for a year at the end of 2019 amid the threat of US sanctions. 

Late last year the main pipe-laying company pulled out. But last month the Fortuna completed a 2.6km section in German waters and was due to start operations in Danish waters before work was suspended. The Fortuna was sailing in the Baltic on Thursday, according to most recent data.

Russia’s Gazprom, which is behind the construction project, is still working with several Western companies, which have also been threatened with US sanctions. German energy firm Uniper said on Thursday it stood by the project and was convinced it would be completed.

Why is Navalny’s case being invoked? 

When Alexei Navalny, 44, was poisoned in Russia by a Novichok nerve agent last August he was flown to Germany and recovered in a Berlin hospital.

Germany was at the forefront of European demands for Russia to investigate the attack in Siberia, which has since been blamed by investigative journalists on a team of FSB security service agents. Russia denies any involvement.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas even indicated at the time that the future of the pipeline could be at stake. Mr Maas is hoping to travel to Washington to meet Antony Blinken as soon as he is sworn in as secretary of state.

In their non-binding vote, members of the European Parliament called for the EU to “immediately prevent” the completion of Nord Stream 2 and demanded Mr Navalny’s immediate release from jail.

Nord Stream pipelines from Russia

German Green MEP Reinhard Butikofer tweeted that it was “in Europe’s interest that this pipeline is not built”.

Mr Navalny is currently being held in Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow. Russian authorities jailed him for failing to report regularly under the terms of a suspended sentence while he was recovering in Germany. He has also been accused of libelling a World War Two veteran.

His supporters are planning to take to the streets of dozens of Russian cities on Saturday in protest at his imprisonment. Police on Thursday detained Mr Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh. and fellow opposition activist Lyubov Sobol in response to the calls for protest.

Image shows the palace on the Black Sea
image captionMr Navalny’s team allege that Mr Putin owns this Black Sea palace property

A video produced by Mr Navalny’s team and released on Tuesday during his detention has been viewed more than 47 million times. Its allegations that President Vladimir Putin spent illicit funds on an extravagant palace have been vehemently denied by the Kremlin.

EU foreign affairs ministers will discuss both Mr Navalny’s detention and the pipeline on Monday. But EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has said the 27-member state union cannot prevent Germany from going ahead with Nord Stream 2.

“EU-Russia relations cannot be reduced to the poisoning of Mr Navalny. We will respond swiftly and decisively to this poisoning, but we have other dimensions in our relations with Russia that we need to continue to address,” he added.

Covid-19: Amazon offers to help with US vaccine delivery

Amazon has offered to help distribute Covid-19 vaccines in the US, in a letter to new president Joe Biden.

The letter, penned by the firm’s chief executive Dave Clark, said that the e-commerce giant stood “ready to assist you in this effort”.

Amazon has come in for criticism about its handling of the pandemic, with some staff claiming conditions in its warehouses were not safe.

But it is also asking for vaccines for its workers to be prioritised.

The firm has signed an agreement with an unnamed healthcare provider to administer vaccines on site at its warehouses around the US. It has requested that its 800,000 workers around the world be among the first to receive the doses, because they are unable to work from home.

President Biden has vowed to deliver 100 million Covid-19 vaccinations to US citizens in the first 100 days of his administration.

In the letter, Mr Clark wrote: “We are prepared to move quickly once vaccines are available.”

He said the firm was ready to “leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise” to assist in the effort.

“Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against Covid-19 and we stand ready to assist you in this effort.”

Logistics experts

Amazon has been stepping up its delivery efforts in recent years. Last month, it bought its first planes to expand its air network, and it also has fleets of trucks and vans. 

In 2019, it delivered an estimated 2.3 billion packages in North America comprised of goods purchased on its own sites.

Some experts think that it could become a credible competitor to logistics experts such as Fedex.

The firm has faced criticism over its handling of the pandemic, though, with one US union accusing it of allowing the virus to “spread like wildfire”. 

Three employees at its Staten Island warehouse launched a lawsuit alleging that its policies did not encourage workers to stay at home if they felt ill, as well as demanding changes to working conditions.

Amazon said in its defence that it had invested $4bn (£2.9bn) in Covid-19 initiatives.

For months, it was not prepared to reveal how many of its workers had caught Covid-19.

But in October 2020, it finally provided numbers – which at the time stood at 19,816 from March.

Serum Institute: Fire at world’s largest vaccine producer kills five

Five people have been killed in a fire at the site of the world’s largest vaccine producer in western India.

The blaze started at a building which was still under construction at the Serum Institute of India’s facilities in Pune on Thursday afternoon.

Footage showed thick plumes of smoke billowing from a building on the company’s sprawling site.

The company said vaccine production would not be affected. The cause of the fire has not been identified.

The fire was later brought under control, but the city’s mayor confirmed that five people had died.

“We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident,” the Serum Institute’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla, said in a tweet.

“We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed.”

Mr Poonawalla said there would be no impact on the production of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, known locally as Covishield, “due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies”.

Covishield is one of two vaccines approved by the Indian government for use in its inoculation programme, which began last week and is the largest in the world.

The country aims to vaccinate 300 million people by early August.

Many other low and middle-income countries are also depending on the Serum Institute for production of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

India has recorded the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world after the US. Since the pandemic began it has confirmed more than 10.6 million cases and almost 153,000 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Biden reverses controversial US travel bans

US President Joe Biden has begun to undo some of Donald Trump’s key policies, hours after being sworn in, including ending the travel ban on some majority-Muslim countries.

His proclamation said that the US “was built on a foundation of religious freedom and tolerance, a principle enshrined in the United States Constitution”.

“Nevertheless, the previous administration enacted a number of executive orders and presidential proclamations that prevented certain individuals from entering the United States – first from primarily Muslim countries, and later, from largely African countries. 

“Those actions are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all.” 

Mr Trump signed a controversial travel ban just seven days after taking office as US president in January 2017, arguing it was vital to protect Americans. 

People from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea were banned from obtaining any kind of visa. Chad was taken off this list in 2019. Last February, citizens of six more countries were barred from obtaining certain types of visas, including those from Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. 

Mr Biden said the actions of Mr Trump’s administration had undermined national security. 

“They have jeopardised our global network of alliances and partnerships and are a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over. And they have separated loved ones, inflicting pain that will ripple for years to come. They are just plain wrong.” 

But the new president said the US would still take threats to the country seriously. 

“When visa applicants request entry to the United States, we will apply a rigorous, individualised vetting system. But we will not turn our backs on our values with discriminatory bans on entry into the United States.”

Gaming firms fined nearly £7m for restricting European sales

Valve, owner of online PC gaming platform Steam, and five other publishers have been fined a total of €7.8m (£6.9m) for restricting cross-border sales of PC video games.

So-called geo-blocking means games are locked, so that a cheaper licence intended for less well-off European countries cannot be used elsewhere. 

That stopped gamers “shopping around” for the best deals, said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Valve said that it planned to appeal.

The other publishers fined were:

  • Japan’s Bandai Namco and Capcom
  • French developer Focus Home
  • German publisher Koch Media
  • US-based ZeniMax 

All five co-operated with the commission, so had their original fines reduced. But the commission said Valve did not co-operate, and it was fined more than €1.6m (£1.4m) with no reduction.

Valve denied this, telling CNBC that it has “co-operated fully, providing all requested evidence and information to the commission”.

It added that it disagreed with the findings and planned to appeal.

Companies are not supposed to split up the single European market. But some members of the European Economic Area (EEA) have lower incomes than others, meaning that games are generally priced more cheaply for those countries.

Valve makes games such as the Half-Life franchise, but also owns Steam, one of the world’s largest online PC gaming platforms, offering an estimated 44,000 games for sale. 

Buyers can buy games directly from Steam, but the company also gives game publishers “activation keys” for its game downloads that can be bought on other sites.

These activation keys, which publishers agreed to region-block with Valve, were at the core of the investigation.

The publishers were found to have geo-blocked around 100 PC games from a variety of genres including sports, simulation and action. 

According to the EU, Valve agreed bilateral deals with all the named publishers to issue Steam keys that prevented activation of certain games outside the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Ms Vestager said: “Today’s sanctions against the geo-blocking practices of Valve and five PC video game publishers serve as a reminder that under EU competition laws, companies are prohibited from contractually restricting cross-border sales.

“Such practices deprive European consumers of the benefits of the EU digital single market, and of the opportunity to shop around for the most suitable offer in the EU.”

Meanwhile, the five publishers formed deals with each other restricting cross-border sales of games, the EU found.

Brexit: Exporter sets up Dutch firm to avoid bureaucracy

A leading skateboard distributor has set up another business in the Netherlands to avoid paying tax twice on exports after Brexit.

Shiner’s operations director said it would spend about £530,000 operating a base outside Rotterdam.

Some firms said current custom systems were “not fit for purpose”, causing significant delays at the border.

The prime minister has said companies would be compensated for delays that were not their fault. 

Richard Staite, of the company based in Almondsbury, South Gloucestershire, already pays 16% import duty on goods from China. 

“If we then sell [items] on to one of our European customers we have to pay that import duty when we cross again into Europe”, Mr Staite said.

He said the firm has opened its new European business and warehouse to avoid that “extra layer of bureaucracy” when operating on the continent.

Richard Staite
image captionRichard Staite said corporation tax it would have paid in the UK will now go to the Dutch authorities

“For the [UK] government there’s a loss of corporation tax because all the profit is now profit that is being made in the Netherlands. 

“We will be paying tax to the Netherlands rather to the UK government.”

Andrew Varga, the managing director of Bristol-based Seetru Engineering, said the company has found it “impossible to generate new business within the EU”. 

The company makes high pressure valves, used by engineering firms throughout Europe.

But he said other firms were being put off from buying British by complex customs rules. 

Andrew Varga
image captionAndrew Varga said some EU-based companies have said they “just cannot” buy from Seetru Engineering

Mr Varga said: “It creates a bureaucracy that they do not have systems in place to manage. 

“So however much they’d want to do it, the investment they would need to go into to build the systems to deal with us is just an absolute killer.

“The ones who export on have said they just cannot deal with us – as simple as that.” 

The Department for International Trade was approached to comment.

Malware found on laptops given out by government

Some of the laptops given out in England to support vulnerable children home-schooling during lockdown contain malware, BBC News has learned.

Teachers shared details on an online forum about suspicious files found on devices sent to a Bradford school.

The malware, which they said appeared to be contacting Russian servers, is believed to have been found on laptops given to a handful of schools.

The Department for Education said it was aware and urgently investigating.

A DfE official told BBC New said: “We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices.

“And we are investigating as an urgent priority to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

“DfE IT teams are in touch with those who have reported this issue. 

“We believe this is not widespread.”

According to the forum, the Windows laptops contained Gamarue.1, a worm identified by Microsoft in 2012. 

The government has so far sent schools more than 800,000 laptops, as it tries to distribute more than a million devices to disadvantaged pupils who may not have access at home. 

“Upon unboxing and preparing them, it was discovered that a number of the laptops were infected with a self-propagating network worm,” one teacher wrote.

Louis Vuitton designer plans Burundi makeover

A Burundian pattern-maker working for Paris-based luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton whose mother wanted him to study medicine and become a medical doctor has told the BBC how he hopes to transform the fashion industry back home.

Pierre Hardy Mwete – whose mother wanted him to become a doctor – told BBC Great Lakes that he wants to tap into Burundi’s young talent. Quote Message: When you speak of fashion and tailoring, many Burundians think of people on streets with sewing machines to repair clothes.”

When you speak of fashion and tailoring, many Burundians think of people on streets with sewing machines to repair clothes.”

But the 23-year-old, who studied in Paris, plans to start a fashion school in BurundiQuote Message: I want to change this mindset, I want to start a fashion school in Burundi that will teach fashion, just like other careers, and create jobs for talents who do not have chances today.”

I want to change this mindset, I want to start a fashion school in Burundi that will teach fashion, just like other careers, and create jobs for talents who do not have chances today.”

Many Burundians consider fashion design to be a poor-paying job and discourage young people from such a career – an attitude the young pattern-maker hopes to change.

Pierre Hardy Mwete adjusting the clothes of model during a fashion shoot

Disability and lovemaking: ‘Why do people think I’m my boyfriend’s carer?’

Dating is complicated at the best of times, but social stigma means dating someone with a disability is rarely discussed. After Hannah and wheelchair user Shane Burcaw spoke out over online comments dismissing their relationship, we spoke to other couples about their experiences.

After Hannah and Shane recently tied the knot at an intimate home ceremony, they shared a photo of the day on social media.

“We’re husband and wife!!!!” wrote Hannah. “I’m incredibly lucky to now be married to the greatest guy I know.”

But they were met with messages like this:

“For real though… does she also have another partner for having sex with?”

“Is he rich or something?”

“Oh my God… this must be photoshopped.”

Image of trolling comments received by YouTubers Shane and Hannah on Instagram

The reason, YouTubers Shane and Hannahbelieve, is because he’s disabled and she’s not. Shane has spinal muscular atrophy and has used a wheelchair since he was two.

The couple, who live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, tell BBC Three that the knee-jerk response reflects how misinformed many people still are towards disability and dating.

“Our society tells us that disabled people aren’t worthy partners,” she says. “There’s almost no positive representation of disability or dating with a disability in our media, so many people think that disabled people couldn’t possibly be in a healthy, wonderful relationship.

“This means when they see Shane and I, they invent conspiracy theories to try to reconcile our relationship with what they’ve been taught.”

‘The media makes disability undesirable’

One survey, from 2014, suggests that 44% of Brits sampled wouldn’t consider having sex with someone who had a physical disability, while 50% wouldn’t rule out the possibility.

Shane, 28, says the lack of positive representation often made him feel like he “would never find a partner”.

“The things I saw in the media made disability out to be extremely undesirable,” he says.

“This led me to believe that most people would not want to be bothered with dating someone who had a disability.”

Hannah, 24, says that while Shane’s disability never bothered her (they got chatting after she saw one of his vlogs online), she’d equally “never met anyone who used a wheelchair or had a physical disability.”

Illustration of a cuddling couple with one of the couple leaning on a crutch

There’s also a debate about how disabled and non-disabled couples describe themselves.

In the US, some couples, including within the disability vlogging community, have started to use the term “interabled”.

But it’s not widely accepted. Some feel it’s an unhelpful reinforcement of narrow-minded, medically-orientated thinking.

“It’s inaccurate and focuses on the physical or mental differences between the two people (or more) in a relationship,” says disability campaigner and broadcaster Mik Scarlet.

“Disabled people spend far too much time trying to get wider society to understand the ‘social model of disability’, which suggests we aren’t disabled by our bodies but the way society treats us, so when a concept like ‘interabled’ takes hold it undoes so much of that work.”

BBC Three spoke to other young couples about their experiences…

‘People assume we’re siblings’

Charlie and Gina

Image of Charlie and Gina, Gina is sitting on Charlie's lap

Charlie says…

I have cerebral palsy due to lack of oxygen to the brain at 10 weeks old. I mainly use a wheelchair as I have problems with balance and use of my lower limbs.

Gina and I have been together for just over three years.

Gina’s never been fazed by the disability. She did ask a lot of questions at the beginning of our relationship, but I didn’t mind that. Since she knew that I was disabled from the beginning, and we developed our relationship online, by the time we met in person we were already quite committed and it didn’t matter at all.

In terms of social perceptions, it’s interesting that people often assume we’re siblings. Sure, we’re both ginger, but I think it’s easier for people to assume a disabled person would be out with their family instead of having a partner.

We also get a lot of people thanking or praising Gina for being with me, which makes me sound like a booby prize or that she’s settled for something she shouldn’t have to put up with.

People also seem to think it must be a very one-sided relationship, with Gina doing everything for me. The opposite is true: it’s a two-way street just like everyone else’s relationships. Yes, she may help physically day-to-day but I support her through mental struggles and everyday life.

If there’s one thing I want people to understand it’s that relationships are relationships. They have ups and downs, responsibilities, and care and understanding for each other. Having a disability doesn’t change that. If you’re in a relationship with someone with a disability, it is just that. No ulterior motives.

Illustration of a couple, with one of the couple using a cane and wearing dark glasses

Gina says…

When we first started chatting, I asked Charlie if he minded if I asked some questions… ice-breakers, life questions. I said he could do the same, and we turned it into a fun, silly game.

A lot of mine involved questions about his disability, but I had said that if I asked a stupid question or one he didn’t want to answer, he didn’t have to. It helped to get a lot covered, so nothing felt awkward when we met.

Fast-forward three years. When we’re out, I’ve got used to the shocked, sympathy look I get when I mention my boyfriend is a wheelchair user or that I have to assist him with certain tasks. People say, “that must be a lot for you… I bet it was difficult to decide whether you wanted to move forward with the relationship.”

The answer, bluntly, is no. I always reply with a compliment to Charlie or explain that no, I am not in a burdensome one-way relationship, but rather with him because he is an amazing, loving and caring person.

I think a lot of the misunderstanding comes from people believing that helping a disabled person can only be a chore – the duty of a paid friend or assistant.

What they fail to understand is that, actually, when I help Charlie, it doesn’t weaken the relationship and take the love away. If anything it heightens it. I never use the word carer for this reason, I am Charlie’s partner through everything.

‘There’s a taboo around disability and sex’

Lucy and Arun

Image of Lucy and Arun posing for a photo with a beautiful mountain view behind them

Lucy says…

I have fibromyalgia, a musculoskeletal disability. Symptoms include chronic pain, brain fog, chronic fatigue and probably the one that affects me most – mobility. I regularly require the use of a stick or other support.

I met Arun over two years ago on an exchange programme in Los Angeles. As I’m so open, he fell in love with me knowing about my disability.

Arun understands that my body is very different and unpredictable – he’s not only the most caring person but also the most supportive.

On a day-to-day basis, I need quite a lot of help to stay mobile as I struggle with public transport, can’t walk very far and unfortunately cannot drive at the moment (a lot has to be taken into consideration). I am lucky that Arun drives and will help me run errands like shopping.

The fact that fibro is invisible means we are initially perceived as a couple without the disability, but this means it can come as more of a visible shock to some people.

It’s frustrating, as Arun gets inundated with lots of questions. In public I tend to brush it off a lot more whereas he can get quite hot-headed sometimes. However, at home, I have a lot more panic attacks and breakdowns because it gets incredibly overwhelming.

I wish people would understand that my disability doesn’t entitle you to any more information about my private life compared to anyone else.

That said, there’s definitely a taboo around disability and sex, in that people think you cannot have both.

While this may be true for some cases, I feel people who are disabled have a much deeper appreciation about what it means to be intimate and have sex. It’s not just about penetration (sorry to be so blunt), but I think more about the feelings and emotion, the foreplay and the pleasure.

It’s a whole experience that I think some non-disabled couples would say that they are lacking.

‘Care should exist in all romantic relationships’

Lorna and Rob

Photo Lorna and Rob posing for a selfie in front of a lake

Lorna says…

I’ve been with Rob for 11 years, and married for four. We’d been together for about seven years when I was diagnosed with ME, which causes severe fatigue and leaves me often using a wheelchair and housebound most of the time.

It also means Rob has to help me with some personal care, such as showering and other day-to-day tasks.

I would say it absolutely brought us closer as a couple, and continues to do so. I think care within a relationship, although often tricky to navigate, can be so intimate.

This isn’t to say it’s been an easy adjustment, for either of us.

The transition has been difficult for me, as my life has changed so drastically. I had to forgo my career as a teacher and that really impacted my sense of self-worth.

However, I’m lucky that I was able to access some therapy on the NHS and my therapist and I did a lot of work on this. The main thing that helped was reframing what we consider to be “helpful”.

So although I may not be able to do the hoovering or the cooking, I listen to him when he needs to offload about his day. I do the meal plans to ensure we’re both getting a healthy, balanced diet.

The fact is, care of some form should exist in all romantic relationships – abled and disabled – otherwise what exactly are you doing with each other?

Illustration of a couple and their pet dog, with one of the couple in a wheelchair

In terms of life beyond the home, having a fluctuating condition and chronic fatigue means that we can never really make any concrete plans.

Obviously we still have our moments of frustration, but I would say that it’s actually taught us both to be way more flexible and laid-back, and also to live a little more in the present and appreciate the smaller things that are still accessible to us.

Plus, that guy is like, obsessed with me or something, he’s happy just being with me! Our sex life is strong, mainly because we communicate.

As a society, we still fail to see disabled people as fully realised human beings with the same spectrum of emotional and physical needs as anyone else.

This needs to change. I lost all my confidence and I worried that my husband wouldn’t find me desirable anymore, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Plus, I still fancy the pants off my husband, so that always helps.

By: Alex Taylor

The 20-years-old making thousands in lockdown: Ben Gulliver

A 20-year-old entrepreneur who has made up to £12,000 a day during the pandemic has urged people not to give up on something they are passionate about.

When Ben Gulliver was furloughed, he started selling much-needed products to people in lockdown. 

He sold thousands of teeth cleaning devices, which proved helpful when dentists closed, before moving on to gym equipment and even coffee cups.

“It shows how much can change in a year,” said Ben, of Worcestershire.

‘Change your life’

Ben had been working as a manager at Advanced Hair Studio in Romford, east London, when the UK went into lockdown.

He was furloughed from his job and started making plans to go it alone. 

“This was the perfect time,” he said. “I started researching on YouTube to see what business ventures I could do.

“I thought, ‘what products are good to sell? A product that solves a problem’.”

He decided to start selling things he felt people needed the most, sourcing teeth cleaning products from China, as well as gym equipment, DIY products and coffee cups.

Ben Gulliver with boxes full of products to be put on his website
image captionBen picked up business tips working for Dragons’ Den success story Neil Westwood

His entrepreneurial streak shone through, even when he was a schoolboy.

“I always knew I wanted to work for myself,” he said. “When I was in school, I would buy lollipops for 15p and sell them for £1.”

As a teenager he got a placement working with Neil Westwood, whose Magic Whiteboard business in Worcester is one of the biggest successes from the BBC’s Dragons’ Den.

“I was always keen, asking questions about business,” Ben, from Kidderminster, said. He even went on a business trip to Japan, something he describes as a “crazy experience”.

“I was only 16. I felt homesick, but I learned a lot about the industry. The biggest lesson I learned was to make contacts.”

Ben quit his job when his business took off. “On a good day I can make £12,000,” he said.

Ben Gulliver working in his office
image captionHe has always had an entrepreneurial streak – selling lollies he had bought for 15p for £1 each at school

He sold the first business he created in lockdown to an American investor for a six-figure sum. He is continuing his fitness equipment business and selling other items online.

He has even been able to employ one of his friends in customer services, giving him a “stable stream of income”. 

“I want to help young people start up their businesses and give them advice. All they need is that push to get started,” he said.

“As long as you have a laptop or a phone and the internet, you can create a business.”

And his advice for those wanting to follow their dreams? 

“Never give up on something you’re passionate about, because it can just happen overnight and pretty much change your life.”

Biden gets to work on reversing Trump policies with executive orders

US President Joe Biden has begun to undo some of Donald Trump’s key policies, hours after being sworn in.

“There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face,” he tweeted as he headed to the White House following his inauguration.

President Biden signed executive orders aimed at boosting the federal response to the coronavirus crisis.

Other moves will reverse the previous administration’s stance on climate change, immigration and race relations.

President Biden “will take action – not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration – but also to start moving our country forward,” a statement detailing the orders said. 

So, what are some of the standout orders?

Coronavirus pandemic

Mr Biden is to enact a range of measures to help tackle Covid-19, which has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the US. The president’s executive orders will:

  • Cease action to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO). Virus expert Dr Anthony Fauci is set to participate in a WHO international executive board meeting this week on behalf of the US
  • Centralise the national Covid-19 response in a move to co-ordinate the distribution of protective equipment, vaccines and tests
  • Require masks and distancing on all federal property
  • Launch a “100 Days Masking Challenge” asking people to mask up for 100 days

The climate crisis

File image of nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania

Mr Biden seeks to undo some of his predecessor’s controversial orders relating to environmental policy by:

  • Rejoining the 2015 Paris climate agreement, from which Mr Trump formally withdrew the US last year
  • Cancelling the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, which environmentalists and Native American groups have fought for more than a decade.

Immigration

The president has vowed to:

  • Revoke Mr Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, that restricted entry into the country from some primarily Muslim countries
  • Stop the construction of the Mexican border wall
2px presentational grey line

This is the (relatively) easy part

Joe Biden and his presidential team have had nearly three months to plan out his first actions upon taking the oath of office. Donald Trump had used his executive authority broadly, to advance large swaths of his political agenda, so how – and when – Biden would begin undoing those actions would have particular importance.

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

It didn’t take long for the newly inaugurated president to show his hand. He targeted, in particular, some of the most controversial portions of Trump’s agenda. The Biden administration also will freeze all of Trump’s last-minute regulations pending further review. 

Executive action is the (relatively) easy part, however. For Biden to make lasting change – policies that can’t be undone by future presidents – he will have to work with Congress to pass legislation on issues like pandemic relief, citizenship for undocumented migrants, healthcare reform and voting-rights protections.

He also declined, for now, to take other executive actions, like cancelling student loan debt, lifting Mr Trump’s trade restrictions or enacting new criminal justice measures.

With Democrats in control in the House of Representatives and Senate, Biden has a window for accomplishments, although it will require surmounting Republican procedural obstacles and keeping his party in line. The president’s decades of experience as a legislator could come in useful.

Big Tech: The role of social media in US Capitol riots

Social network executives have been grilled by MPs on the role their platforms played in recent events in Washington which saw a mob break into Congress.

US Elections protest: Jacob Chansley (C) with other Pro-Trump supporters, as they demonstrate ouside Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol after breaching security, January 6th 2021
image captionJacob Chansley (C), also known as the QAnon Shaman, has been charged over the US Capitol riots

All said that they needed to do more to monitor extremist groups and content such as conspiracy theories.

But none had any radical new policies to offer.

The government has recently set out tough new rules for how social media firms moderate content.

Facebook said it had removed 30,000 pages, events and groups related to what it called “militarised social movements” since last summer.

“We have a 24-hour operation centre where we are looking for content from groups… of citizens who might use militia-style language,” said Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, Monika Bickert.

She added: “We had teams that in the weeks leading up to the [events in Washington] were focused on understanding what was being planned and if it could be something that would turn into violence. We were in touch with law enforcement.”

Despite its efforts, half of all designated white supremacist groups had a presence on Facebook last year according to a study from the watchdog Tech Transparency Project.

Julian Knight MP, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, which is also scrutinising the big tech firms, asked Google’s global director of information policy Derek Slater what it was doing to fight conspiracy theories.

“Do you think that it would be wise for you to adopt a new policy where you kept money on your platforms in escrow prior to its distribution so that any cause in which disinformation to found to have taken place… you could perhaps withhold that money?” he asked.

Mr Slater replied that it was an “interesting idea” and that Google was always “re-evaluating its policies”, but he made no commitment to the idea.

trump shhh

MPs also quizzed Twitter on its decision to permanently ban President Donald Trump.

The firm’s head of public policy strategy Nick Pickles was asked if doing so undermined its insistence that it was a platform rather than a publisher.

It was, he said, time to “move beyond” that debate to a conversation about whether social networks were enforcing their own rules correctly.

Questioned why it had banned Mr Trump while still allowing other politicians to “sabre-rattle” on its platform, Mr Pickles added: “This is the complexity and challenge of these issues but generally content moderation is not a good way to hold governments to account.”

Mr Trump’s tweets were inciting violence “in real-time”, he added.

TikTok’s director of government relations Theo Bertram said that the video-streaming app had played less of a role in the violence in Washington and hosted fewer banned groups.

But that view was challenged by Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

It was, she said, in contrast to the Anti-Defamation League which found a significant amount of anti-Semitic content on the platform when it studied it last summer.

Biden inauguration: New president sworn in amid Trump snub

Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th US president, ending one of the most dramatic political transitions in American history.

“Democracy has prevailed,” he said after taking the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts.

Outgoing President Donald Trump, who has not formally conceded to Mr Biden, is not attending the ceremony.

The new president has announced a raft of executive orders aimed at reversing Mr Trump’s key policies.

Vice-President-elect Harris was sworn in ahead of Mr Biden – becoming the first woman and the first black and Asian-American person elevated to serve in a role a heartbeat from the presidency.

The inauguration is taking place at the US Capitol. There is extra-tight security after the building was stormed by violent pro-Trump protesters in a deadly riot on 6 January.

Some 25,000 National Guards are protecting the inauguration ceremony, which is missing the traditional hundreds of thousands of spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Trump left the White House for the last time as president shortly after 08:00 (13:00 GMT). He boarded a helicopter, flew to the nearby Andrews Air Force base, and has now arrived in Florida.

He is the first president not to attend his successor’s inauguration since 1869.

How is inauguration day unfolding?

Early on Wednesday Mr Biden attended Mass at a cathedral in Washington – along with four Roman Catholic congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans – before making his way to the Capitol. 

Age 78, Mr Biden is the oldest US president ever to be sworn in. In his inaugural address, he said it was a day of “history and hope”.

Among those attending the ceremony are three of his predecessors: Barack Obama – under whom Mr Biden served for eight years as vice-president – Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

Outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence is also attending the ceremony. He skipped Mr Trump’s farewell military salute event at Andrews base.

Aides say Mr Biden will use his inaugural address of about half an hour to deliver an optimistic call for national unity after his Republican predecessor’s turbulent tenure.

President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden attend services at the Cathedral of St Matthew in Washington, DC
image captionJoe Biden and his wife Jill attended a church service ahead of the inauguration

The ceremony includes musical performances by Lady Gaga – who sang the national anthem – as well as Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks.

An evening concert at the Lincoln Memorial in the city will be hosted by Tom Hanks and include Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Jon Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, and Demi Lovato.

What is Trump doing?

In his address at Andrews Air Force base the outgoing president highlighted what he regarded as the successes of his presidency. “What we’ve done has been amazing by any standard,” Mr Trump said.

The 74-year-old flew off to begin post-presidential life at his Mar-a-Lago golf club in Palm Beach.

In his last hours, Mr Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon, who had been facing fraud charges.

The political drama surrounding Mr Trump is far from over. The US Senate is expected to put him on trial soon, following his record second impeachment by the House of Representatives for allegedly inciting the Capitol riot.

On Tuesday, the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said the mob had been provoked by Mr Trump and fed lies.

What will Biden do on his first day?

Mr Biden has set out a flurry of executive orders. In a statement on Wednesday he said he would sign 15 orders after he is sworn in. They will:

  • Reverse Mr Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord
  • Revoke the presidential permit granted to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is opposed by environmentalists and Native American groups
  • Revoke Trump policies on immigration enforcement and the emergency declaration that helped fund the construction of a Mexican border wall
  • Bring about a mask and distancing mandate for federal employees and in federal buildings, and a new White House office on coronavirus
  • End a travel ban on visitors from some, mainly Muslim, nations

Other orders will cover race and gender equality, along with climate issues.

Mr Biden’s vice-president will swear in three new Democratic senators on Wednesday, leaving the upper chamber of Congress evenly split between the two main parties. This will allow the vice-president to act as a tie-breaker in key votes. 

Mr Biden’s legislative ambitions could be tempered by the slender majorities he holds in both the Senate and House of Representatives. 

On Tuesday, Mr Biden delivered a speech in his home state of Delaware, telling reporters “these are dark times… but there’s always light”, before heading to Washington.

In the evening, he and Ms Harris led a tribute at the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial to the 400,000 Americans lost to Covid-19.

They were almost alone on the National Mall, where some 200,000 flags have been planted to represent the crowds who will be absent at Wednesday’s inauguration.

What’s the mood like in Washington? 

Some 25,000 National Guard troops are guarding the Capitol, White House and National Mall, which are also protected by a ring of steel made up of barricades and tall fencing.

Ahead of Mr Biden’s arrival in the city, 12 National Guard members were removed from the presidential inauguration security mission after they were found to have ties with right-wing militia groups or posted extremist views online. 

There was no threat to Mr Biden, officials said.

Madrid explosion leaves two dead

At least two people have died following a blast that caused a building to partially collapse in the Spanish capital, Madrid.

An initial assessment suggested a gas leak had caused the explosion, Mayor José Luis Martínez Almeida said.

He told reporters a fire was still raging inside the building, which belongs to the Catholic Church and is in the centre of the city.

At least eight people were injured in the explosion.

An 85-year-old woman and a man were killed in the blast, reports say. One of the injured is in a serious condition and has been taken to hospital, according to officials.

Rescue workers evacuated more than 50 people from a care home next-door to the building in the Puerta de Toledo of Madrid, but a nearby school was closed at the time of the blast.

Four floors of the building were destroyed in the explosion, which could be heard in many areas of the capital. Images shared on social media showed billowing smoke and debris strewn along the street.

Map showing the site of the explosion

Emergency services said nine fire crews and 11 ambulances were at the scene and some of those caught up in the blast were treated on Calle de Toledo, the street where it happened. 

Police officers cleared the area, closing it to all traffic and pedestrians, and appealed to local residents not to come near.

“The noise was very loud, very loud, really,” Lorenzo Fomento, who was working from home at a nearby apartment, told AFP news agency. “I never heard anything so loud before,” he added.

Online shoppers warned about hidden price rises

Algorithms used by online marketplaces could lead to a rise in prices of goods and services, the UK’s competitions watchdog has warned.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating businesses which use technology on selling platforms.

Shoppers could be “manipulated” into buying specific items, as search results favour certain brands, it said.

Consumers may also be shown misleading messages on these websites, suggesting items are in short supply.

Collusion between businesses on consumer spending and browsing data could lead to “sustained higher prices for products and services”, the CMA said. 

Kate Brand, its director of data science, added: “Algorithms play an important role online but, if not used responsibly, can potentially do a tremendous amount of harm to consumers and businesses. 

“Assessing this harm is the first step towards being able to ensure consumers are protected, and complements our wider work in digital markets to promote greater competition and innovation online.”

‘Personalised pricing’

The effect of algorithms can be difficult for shoppers to detect, the regulator warned, adding that websites could use “nudges” including the location of a “buy” button or generating “personalised pricing”.

Online platforms might also have misleading messages which suggest a product is in short supply, the CMA added.

Another issue it wants to scrutinise is how firms can use algorithms to manipulate online review scores.

But the CMA accepted that this technology can also bring benefits, by suggesting products or services in which consumers are more likely to be interested.

It has now asked for contributions from academics and industry experts to aid the investigation.

“The majority of algorithms used by private firms online are currently subject to little or no regulatory oversight, and the research concludes that more monitoring and action is required by regulators,” the CMA said in a statement.

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at consumer group Which?, said “pressure-selling tactics” or the use of fake reviews can be harmful to customers.

“Algorithms can help consumers find suitable products and services as well as good deals, but can also be used to track and monitor behaviours in ways they are unaware of, leading to them being manipulated or misled – either accidentally or by design,” she added.

Ex-Google engineer among those pardoned by Donald Trump

A former Google engineer sentenced to 18 months in prison is among those pardoned by US President Donald Trump as he leaves office.

Anthony Levandowski stole information about self-driving cars before setting up autonomous lorry company Otto.

The pardon was supported by Silicon Valley figures including investor Peter Thiel and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.

At the time of sentencing, in August, the judge said it was “the biggest trade-secret crime I have ever seen”.

But Judge Alsup also called Levandowski “a brilliant, ground-breaking engineer that our country needs”.

‘Significant price’

That was quoted in the outgoing Trump administration’s memo justifying the pardon.

Levandowski had “paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good”, it added.

In the final hours of his presidency, Mr Trump pardoned 73 people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon.

Levandowski had not started his sentence because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As an employee, he downloaded more than 14,000 files containing the intellectual property of Google’s former self-driving car division, Waymo, before leaving to found Otto, which was soon acquired by Uber.

Levandowski went on to run Uber’s self-driving project, only to be fired in 2017 over the case.

He denied the charges against him.

In February 2017, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, sued Uber over the theft in a case eventually settled in 2018.

Covid: MPs criticise HMRC over gaps in support schemes

Whole groups of people are falling through the cracks of Covid-19 support schemes due to out-of-date tax systems, MPs have said.

Some freelancers and self-employed people have been particularly excluded, despite lockdowns and restrictions meaning they cannot work, the Public Accounts Committee said.

Others meanwhile are able to abuse the system, it said.

The government said its “top priority” was helping those who are struggling.

Since March, HM Revenue and Customs has provided more than £80bn in support to companies and individuals through government coronavirus support schemes, the committee said.

They are also supporting the incomes of many of the self-employed.

But despite this, a report from the MPs says “quirks in the tax system” have meant that groups of workers – including freelancers and self-employed people who recently moved onto company payrolls or work on a series of short-term employment contracts with gaps in between – have been ineligible for furlough payments.

“As public spending balloons to unprecedented levels in response to the pandemic, out-of-date tax systems are one of the barriers to getting help to a significant number of struggling taxpayers who should be entitled to support,” said MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

By contrast, she said some large companies that had used government support schemes had continued to pay dividends to shareholders and high salaries to executives.

She added that HMRC was in many cases failing “to capture or deal with those wrongly claiming” support.

The tax agency should explain to freelancers and other groups why they have been excluded from receiving support and set out steps to fix the problem within six weeks, the MPs said.

‘Uncertainty’

The PAC also said that a lack of certainty about government coronavirus support schemes had made it difficult for businesses to plan effectively.

For example, HMRC could not provide clarity on whether the Job Retention Bonus scheme had been delayed or scrapped, the committee said.

The scheme was meant to pay employers an incentive for every worker they brought back from furlough and kept in employment until January. 

“Such lack of clarity may lead to unnecessary hardships for some businesses, who in good faith were relying on the payments from the scheme to meet some of their needs,” the MPs said.

‘Welfare net’

A government spokesperson said it had done “all it can to help as many people as possible”.

“HMRC delivered Covid-19 support schemes at unprecedented speed, protecting the livelihoods of millions of people. 

“We do not underestimate the challenges faced by individuals and businesses during the pandemic, and our top priority is getting financial support to those struggling… while protecting the taxpayer against fraud.

“Those not eligible for support through these schemes can still benefit from the strengthened welfare safety net, accessing help like universal credit.”

Biden cabinet: Does this new team better reflect America?

Joe Biden’s first cabinet as US president is being described as potentially the most diverse ever. How does it compare to his predecessors and why does representation matter?

When George Washington convened the first cabinet meeting two centuries ago – though he didn’t call it by that name – he enshrined the idea of promoting diverse perspectives at the heart of US government.

Of course, back in 1791, all the voices in the room were white and male. 

You won’t find the cabinet mentioned in the lines of the Constitution, but the first president saw the value of advisers who could guide him on major issues while bringing different viewpoints to the table.

In 2021, America could soon see its first Native American cabinet secretary; first female national intelligence director; first Latino homeland security chief; first openly gay cabinet member and more.

But the incoming president was under pressure from all sides to deliver on his promises of a cabinet that truly reflects the country rather than a line-up of familiar political faces.

So why do diverse cabinet picks matter so much? Let’s take a look.

Short presentational grey line

Since 1933, only 11 presidents have named women to cabinet-level positions. No cabinets have ever matched the gender or racial balance of the country. 

The cabinet size can vary depending on administration, but they’re roughly composed of around 15 executives. In the last 30 years, the trend has been towards greater representation – or at least it was, until the Trump administration. 

The 1993 Clinton Administration

Clinton cabinet

On the day of President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, the Washington Post wrote that the new Democratic leader “has assembled the most diverse Cabinet in history: five women, four blacks and two Latinos”.

Mr Clinton’s small business administrator Aida Alvarez was the first-ever Latina appointed to a cabinet-level position.

The 2001 Bush Administration

Bush cabinet

President George W Bush’s first cabinet was lauded by the New York Times as “a governing team every bit as ethnically and racially diverse as President Clinton’s”.

Mr Bush chose Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, to become the country’s first black secretary of state. He also tapped Norman Mineta – a Democrat who became the first Asian American to hold a cabinet-level spot under Mr Clinton – to head his transportation department.

Later on, the Bush administration made history again with the appointment of Condoleezza Rice: the first black woman to serve as secretary of state and then as national security sdviser. Mr Bush also placed the first Pacific Islander and Asian American woman, Elaine Chao, in a cabinet role as labour secretary.

The 2009 Obama Administration

Obama cabinet

President Barack Obama’s history-making first cabinet was dubbed a “majority-minority”. Mr Obama’s inner circle had seven women, nine minorities and just eight white men.

Under Mr Obama, Susan Rice became the first black woman to serve as US ambassador to the United Nations, and saw Eric Holder become the first black US attorney general.

The 2016 Trump Administration

Trump cabinet

In a throwback to the Reagan era, President Donald Trump’s inner circle was notably white, affluent and male – though he had more women in his White House than previous Republicans.

And Mr Trump did appoint women to other roles in the administration. He named the first Indian-American, Nikki Haley, as UN ambassador.

What’s the delay?

But why has it taken this long for women and minorities to make it into the room where decisions happen?

“When we think about how you get to these roles, one way is to come through elected office,” says Professor Kelly Dittmar of the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics. 

“So if you have a dearth of women and women of colour in elective office, and that’s where presidents are looking, in part, to identify cabinet officials, then you already start with an uneven pool.” 

We saw the first woman in US Congress in 1916, she explains, but it took nearly two more decades before President Franklin Roosevelt appointed the first woman to a cabinet role (that was Labor Secretary Francis Perkins).

The story for black and other ethnic minority Americans has taken even longer. The first black man took a seat in Congress in 1870, but we didn’t see a black man in the cabinet until President Lyndon Johnson appointed Robert Weaver in 1966. It took until 1968 for the first black woman to be elected to Congress. The first black woman in the cabinet followed in 1977 (Patricia Roberts Harris, Housing Secretary). 

“I do think these things feed into each other,” Prof Dittmar says, adding: “It’s also that you would then have more women and people of colour in the process of advocating for cabinet members within their party.”

Part of it is also the fact that the US has no formal rules requiring equal representation for these groups in government.

Countries with quotas in government or at the political party level have made strides towards equality at leadership levels. For example, Rwanda in 2018 saw 61% women in its lower chamber.

The holdouts

In three key posts – Defence, Treasury, and Veteran’s Affairs departments – there has never been a woman in the job.

Prof Dittmar says there are persistent stereotypes about men versus women’s expertise when it comes to defence and national security matters, and public opinion polls have shown this divide. Women weren’t allowed in the military until 1948.

“Even though we have certainly seen greater diversification, these fields are among the most male dominant, especially at the highest levels,” says Prof Dittmar. “There’s all sorts of biases going on within those structures to prevent women’s advancement, I’m sure. That helps explain why those gaps have been there at least historically.”

Then there’s the Treasury, where it looks like Mr Biden’s pick Janet Yellen will break that particular glass ceiling.

Old time stereotypes have given way in this sector. Surveys show people nowadays are more likely to rate the genders equal when it comes to handling the economy.

Why does a (diverse) cabinet matter?

Ohio State University political science and gender studies Professor Wendy Smooth says these appointments are a way of signalling broader initiatives and values – inextricably tied to policy, but also indicators of identity.

“One of the early ways that a presidential administration expresses that willingness to be accountable is through cabinet picks,” Prof Smooth says.

“These are the first acts that demonstrate the will of the administration, the spirit of the administration, the values of the administration. It’s an identity moment. It’s going to be the who we are as the Biden administration and who we are interested in connecting with in the American public.”

It may be difficult to directly measure the importance of symbolism, but it’s there. Turning preconceived notions of leadership upside down can have very tangible implications.

“If you see a woman as secretary of defence for the first time, does that start to disrupt expectations that men are better and more expert in areas of defence? Yes, inevitably it does,” Prof Dittmar says.

She says the same is true for Vice-President Kamala Harris and her history-making appointment.

“I hope that after her tenure as vice-president, the next time we have women running for president that these questions about electability or qualifications or capability will be at least fewer than they were.”

And research from an increasingly diverse Congress has shown that women bring priorities and issues to the table that may otherwise have been ignored. “And that, ultimately, is better for making policy that better speaks to the experiences of the population that they serve,” Prof Dittmar explains. 

“Unless you can tell me that living your life as a woman or as a black woman or as a South Asian woman in the United States is the same as living your life as a white man, then I don’t at all understand why we wouldn’t expect that to make a difference in the lens through which they see policy.”

Biden faces new challenges

Biden cabinet picks

“This cabinet will be more representative of the American people than any other cabinet in history,” Mr Biden told reporters in December, highlighting his “precedent-busting nominations” to date. 

They include Congresswoman Deb Haaland as the first Native American cabinet secretary in US history and Miguel Cardona, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, as his education chief.

Mr Biden has delivered a more diverse first cabinet than Mr Obama, who came close to truly reflecting the country but fell short with seven women to 16 men and just one black secretary. 

But as different groups vie for the same few spots, even Mr Biden’s history-making selections have irked some.

When Mr Biden chose General Lloyd Austin to lead the Pentagon – the first black man to do so – other activists were upset that the position was yet again denied to a woman. Mr Biden picked two white men to head the state and agriculture agencies – Anthony Blinken and Tom Vilsack – when progressive groups would rather have seen him nominate black women to the roles. 

Progressive liberals are also criticising Mr Biden’s selections so far as too safe, too moderate, too establishment and too old.

In recent decades, the pledge of diversity has become increasingly more important to uphold. Democratic supporters in 2020 are no longer appeased by just any minority representation, and the groups that backed Mr Biden’s campaign will expect to hold him accountable. 

So is this first cabinet diverse enough? It’s progress – but for many of the supporters who delivered Mr Biden the presidency, he’s not there just yet.

Brexit: Government considers scrapping some EU labour laws

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has confirmed the government is looking at scrapping some EU labour laws now it is no longer bound by the bloc’s rules.

But he promised there would be no dilution of workers’ rights.

Measures under consideration include relaxing the working time directive which enshrines a 48-hour week.

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband warned the government wanted to take a “wrecking ball” to hard-won rights.

Earlier this week Mr Kwarteng said he wanted to “protect and enhance” labour law after the Financial Times reported that some rules could be weakened. 

The minister later told business leaders the UK had an opportunity to reform regulation derived from EU law, but would not deliberately antagonise the EU – its biggest trading partner – immediately after the Brexit deal.

Confirming the review on Tuesday, Mr Kwarteng told MPs there would be no “bonfire of rights”.

“I think the view was that we wanted to look at the whole range of issues relating to our EU membership and examine what we wanted to keep, if you like,” he said.

But he said “the idea that we are trying to whittle down standards, that’s not at all plausible or true”.

‘High wage, high employment’

Appearing before MPs, the business secretary said: “I’m very struck as I look at EU economies how many EU countries – I think it’s about 17 or 18 – have essentially opted out of the working time directive.

“So even by just following that we are way above the average European standard and I want to maintain that. I think we can be a high-wage, high-employment economy, a very successful economy, and that’s what we should be aiming for.”

View original tweet on Twitter

Mr Miliband said that after denying the FT’s report, Mr Kwarteng had now “let the cat out of the bag” in admitting the government was conducting a review of.

He warned that opting out of the 48-hour week would harm workers in key sectors like the NHS, road haulage and airlines from working excessive hours.

“A government committed to maintaining existing protections would not be reviewing whether they should be unpicked. This exposes that the government’s priorities for Britain are totally wrong.”

Drew Hendry, the SNP’s business spokesman, echoed the criticism, accusing the government of planning an “assault” on workers’ rights.

‘Focus at home first’

Meanwhile the boss of the UK’s biggest recruitment firm, Reed, told the BBC’s Today programme that there was “no wish” among employers to see “a so-called bonfire of workers’ rights.

“They must be protected because fair treatment is the bedrock of good workplace relations,” James Reed said.

The chairman of the firm said the government should instead focus on lower-paid workers and measures that could be taken to improve unemployment, which is set to rise further into mid-2021.

“I would suggest two things are looked at before any EU rules: The apprenticeship levy, which is clearly failing… and also National Insurance on jobs. It’s a tax on jobs – how can that be improved? Especially to help the low-paid back into work.”

Under the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, the UK has agreed to conditions that maintain fair competition, or a level playing field, between the two sides. 

However, the EU’s ambassador to the UK, Joao Vale de Almeida, said Brussels could retaliate if Boris Johnson’s government went too far in with deregulation.

“It will be for us to judge the extent to which it violates this principle of ‘level playing field’ and if that is the case there are mechanisms in the treaty, in the agreement, that allow us to discuss and eventually to come to an understanding,” he said on Tuesday.

“If no understanding there are retaliation measures that can be applied on both sides.”

American Kristen Gray to be deported from Bali amid Twitter row

An American woman looks set to be deported from Bali after her Twitter thread promoting the island as a cheap and LGBT-friendly option for foreigners during the pandemic went viral.

Kristen Gray sparked backlash for her lack of cultural awareness following the tweets on her “elevated lifestyle”.

Indonesian authorities have since accused her of spreading information that could “unsettle” the public.

But Ms Gray says she is being targeted because she spoke out about being LGBT.

Even though the Balinese are mostly Hindu, Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation where its LGBT community has faced discrimination.

Ms Gray is being held at an immigration detention facility and will be deported as soon as a flight is available, Reuters news agency reports.

The Los Angeles native moved to the Indonesian island with her girlfriend a year ago, describing it as “the perfect medicine”.

In a Twitter thread, she raved about Bali being LGBT-friendly, and enthused about the “lower cost of living” there.

In her tweets, Gray – a self-described “digital nomad” – had promoted the sale of her e-book titled ‘Our Bali Life Is Yours’, which is said to have links to visa agents and tips on how foreigners could get to the country. 

“It’s a guide breaking down how we did it and how you can do it too,” said one of the now-deleted tweets.

Gray had added: “The island has been amazing because of our elevated lifestyle at a much lower cost of living. I was paying US$1,300 for my LA studio. Now I have a treehouse for US$400.”

Presentational grey line

The tweets, which initially caused a backlash online, soon caught the attention of immigration officials. Authorities now say she may have violated a number of immigration laws, including spreading information that could “unsettle” the public – such as the idea that Bali was queer friendly, and that foreigners could easily get past borders amid the pandemic.

She is also accused of working without a business visa. 

Indonesia has temporarily restricted foreign arrivals since 1 January to stem the spread of the coronavirus. 

In response to the deportation announcement, Gray told reporters that she is “not guilty”. 

“I have not overstayed my visa. I am not making money in Indonesian rupiah. I put out a statement about LGBT and I am deported because I am LGBT.”

Burna Boy song in Biden’s inauguration playlist

Burna Boy attends The BRIT Awards 2020

A Nigerian artist has featured in the official playlist for President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Burna Boy’s song titled Destiny will feature alongside other big international artists’ songs.

The 46-song playlist was curated to reflect the diversity in the US, the Biden inauguration team said in a statement.

“These songs and artists reflect the relentless spirit and rich diversity of America. They are the score to a new chapter and will help bring people together as the Biden-Harris Administration begins its important work to unite our country,” the statement said.

The playlist features top artists including Beyoncé‘s Find Your Way Back song, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige‘s Now Or Never, Bob Marley and The Wailers‘ Could You Be Loved and Dua Lipa‘s Levitating hit.

Audi to make electric cars with China’s oldest carmaker FAW

Audi is teaming up with China’s oldest carmaker FAW to produce luxury electric vehicles.

FAW is China’s third largest carmaker, and counts Hongqi – or Red Flag – limousines for China’s communist party leaders among its products.

It has been trying to gain ground in the world’s largest electric car market against domestic competitors like Geely and SAIC.

The new joint-venture factory will build fully-electric Audi models.

The $4.6bn facility is set to open in 2024 in Chungchun in China’s Northeast, according to Audi.

“This deepened partnership between Audi and FAW heralds a new era of electrification as the next ‘golden decade’ for Audi on the important Chinese market,” said President of Audi China Werner Eichhorn, in a press release.

China is the single biggest market in the world for Audi, which sold more than 700,000 vehicles there in 2020.

The German luxury brand wants electric vehicles to make up one-third of its sales in China by 2025.

Audi and its owner Volkswagen will own a 60% stake in the joint venture, while FAW will own 40%.

Xi Jinping in a FAW Hongqi at a military parade.

FAW already produces Audi models locally and has a longstanding relationship with Audi and its parent company Volkswagen.

The company was created as part of an industrialisation push by Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s.

Its premium Hongqi models, which were originally created to transport diplomats and communist party officials, fell out of favour in the 1980s before being revived amid a national push to promote Chinese brands.

China’s President Xi Jinping rode in a Hongqi limousine during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2015. 

FAW sold more than 3 million units in 2020, including 200,000 of its premium Hongqi branded cars.

The company plans to electrify most of its Hongqi models by 2025.

Electric car shake-up

Audi’s latest move comes amid a backdrop of increasing competition in China’s electric car market.

According to the International Energy Agency, there were 7.2 million electric cars on the road globally by 2019, with 47% of them in China. 

China’s electric vehicle sales are tipped to reach 1.8 million units this year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The FAW-Audi tie up will likely compete with BMW, which has its own electric vehicle joint-venture with Chinese sports utility vehicle maker Great Wall Motors.

Tesla is also a major player, with its first Chinese-made electric vehicles rolling off the assembly line of the car maker’s Shanghai gigafactory last year. 

A number of local start-ups, like Nio, Aiways, XPeng, Li Auto and WM Motor are also vying for a slice of the Chinese market. 

Increasingly, local electric car markers have also been looking to incorporate high tech features into their cars in an effort to become more competitive. 

Many have partnered with China’s big technology companies to manufacture smarter electric vehicles. 

Nio EP9 car is on display at 2020 Shanghai Pudong International Automotive Exhibition

Chinese media have reported that Alibaba and SAIC will work together under a new premium electric vehicle brand called Zhiji, which will feature new battery technology that will extend the car’s range. 

Chinese search engine Baidu and iPhone maker Foxconn have also each announced partnerships with with Geely, which is China’s largest private carmaker. 

Ride hailing app Didi Chuxing also recently announced it would make electric vehicles designed for its services with automaker BYD.

Biden inauguration: Democrat to be sworn in as Trump leaves office

Joe Biden is to be sworn in as US president, taking the helm of a nation wracked by political division, economic anguish and an unrelenting pandemic.

Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office alongside him in Washington DC, which has been fortified amid fears of civil unrest.

Some 25,000 troops will guard the inauguration ceremony after a deadly riot at the Capitol earlier this month.

Donald Trump will leave the White House for the last time, bound for Florida.

He will not be attending the inauguration ceremony.

How will inauguration day unfold?

Mr Biden will be sworn in as 46th president of the United States by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts shortly before midday (17:00 GMT) on Wednesday outside the US Capitol.

Due to Covid restrictions, the ceremony will be bereft of the cheering throngs of well-wishers traditional at inaugurations. It will also see extra-tight security after the US Capitol was breached by violent pro-Trump protesters on 6 January.

Among those present will be three former presidents: Barack Obama – whom Mr Biden served for eight years as vice-president – Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

Outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence will also attend the ceremony, skipping Mr Trump’s farewell event at a military base outside the nation’s capital.

Aides say Mr Biden, a Democrat, will use his inaugural address of about half an hour to deliver an optimistic call for national unity after his Republican predecessor’s turbulent tenure.

President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden at the Chase Center, November 7, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware
image captionJoe Biden, pictured with his wife Jill, served as vice-president under Barack Obama

Minutes beforehand, Vice-President-elect Harris will be sworn in, becoming the first black and Asian-American elevated to serve in a role a heartbeat from the presidency.

There will be musical performances from Lady Gaga – who will sing the national anthem – Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks.

An evening concert at the Lincoln Memorial in the city will be hosted by Tom Hanks and include Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Jon Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, and Demi Lovato.

Mr Biden, a Catholic, plans to attend Mass on Wednesday morning at a cathedral in the city with the four top congressional leaders – Republicans and Democrats.

What is Trump doing?

Mr Trump will become the first president not to attend his successor’s inauguration since Andrew Johnson snubbed Ulysses S Grant in 1869.

He will host a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Wednesday morning before catching a final flight on Air Force One to begin post-presidential life at his Mar-a-Lago golf club in Palm Beach.

In his last hours, Mr Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon, who is facing fraud charges.

A pardon was announced for rapper Lil Wayne and commutations for rapper Kodak Black and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

In a farewell video message on Tuesday, Mr Trump called on Americans to pray for the incoming administration, though he did not mention his successor by name.

He said he was proud of what he had achieved over the past four years, highlighting his Middle East peace deals and his record as the first president in decades not to start any wars.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia caption‘Fake News’, lots of protests, a pandemic and a double impeachment

But the political drama surrounding him is far from over. The US Senate is expected to put him on trial soon, following his record second impeachment by the House of Representatives for allegedly inciting the Capitol riot.

On Tuesday, the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said the mob had been provoked by Mr Trump and fed lies.

What did Biden do on the eve of inauguration?

Mr Biden had planned to take an Amtrak train into Washington, as he did so often during his years as a veteran senator.

But amid all the heightened security, he instead opted to fly in a private plane to Joint Base Andrews.

On Tuesday evening, he and Ms Harris led a tribute at the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial to the 400,000 Americans lost to Covid-19.

They were almost alone on the National Mall, where some 200,000 flags have been planted to represent the crowds who will be absent at Wednesday’s inauguration.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia caption”When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart”

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Biden wept as he prepared to embark from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

“These are dark times,” he told dozens of supporters. “But there’s always light.”

Mr Biden stayed on Tuesday night with his wife Jill in Blair House, a residence for heads of state and other important visitors across the road from the White House.

What will Biden do on his first day?

Mr Biden plans to issue a flurry of executive orders.

Among other measures, he is expected to reverse Mr Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord, cancel his predecessor’s travel ban on visitors from several mainly Muslim countries, and unveil a bill to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US.

His vice-president will swear in three new Democratic senators on Wednesday, leaving the upper chamber of Congress evenly split between the two main parties, and allowing Ms Harris to cast the deciding vote on any deadlocked legislation.

Mr Biden’s legislative ambitions could be tempered by the slender majorities he holds in both the Senate and House of Representatives. 

Five of his Cabinet picks – Antony Blinken (state department), Janet Yellen (Treasury), Lloyd Austin (Pentagon), Alejandro Mayorkas (Homeland Security) and Avril Haines (Director of National Intelligence) – are undergoing confirmation hearings before Senate committees. 

What’s the mood like in Washington?

Some 25,000 National Guard troops are guarding the Capitol, White House and National Mall, which are also protected by a ring of steel made up of barricades and tall fencing.

Largely emptied of ordinary Americans, central Washington DC has been carved up into “green” and “red” zones reminiscent of war-torn Baghdad.

Ahead of Mr Biden’s arrival in the city, 12 National Guard members were removed from the presidential inauguration security mission after they were found to have ties with right-wing militia groups or posted extremist views online. 

There was no threat to Mr Biden, officials said.

Italy PM Conte wins crucial Senate vote to stay in power

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has won a crucial vote to stay in power – days after former PM Matteo Renzi pulled his party out of the coalition.

The vote in the Senate – 156-140, with 16 abstentions – means, however, that Mr Conte does not have an absolute majority in the upper chamber.

Opposition parties say they plan to ask President Sergio Mattarella to intervene to force him to resign.

Mr Conte, a law professor, has led a centrist coalition since 2018.

The main parties in his coalition are the anti-establishment Five Star (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

The prime minister told the Senate it was vital to maintain political cohesion faced with the “historic challenge” of the pandemic.

Speaking in the Senate debate, Mr Renzi told Mr Conte to make bolder reforms, saying “Italy is wasting its biggest opportunity since the Marshall Plan” – a reference to the US aid for war-shattered Europe in 1948. He accused Mr Conte of being preoccupied with distributing government posts.

Matteo Renzi, file picture 1 Feb 2020
image captionMatteo Renzi has had various policy battles in Mr Conte’s coalition

Even if Mr Conte had lost the vote, a snap election was not a certainty as President Mattarella still has the option of inviting him to assemble a new coalition.

On Monday he won a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies – the lower house – by 321 to 259, securing an absolute majority there.

Mr Renzi objects to Mr Conte’s plans for spending €209bn (£186bn; $254bn) of EU recovery funds – part of a €750bn EU rescue for the Covid crisis.

The former prime minister wants investment in the digital economy and green energy, and rejects Mr Conte’s plan to let technocrats, rather than MPs, decide spending priorities.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia caption”We risked everything to survive” – Naples resident Filomena

Italy has had plenty of minority governments before, but that outcome would leave Mr Conte weaker at a time of national emergency, with Italians struggling under partial lockdown.

Addressing senators, Mr Conte said: “It’s very hard to govern in these conditions, with people who continuously place mines in our path and try to undermine the political balance patiently reached by the coalition”.

Italy has recorded 82,554 deaths linked to coronavirus – the second-highest official toll in Europe after the UK. It has more than 25,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19.

Italy was the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe last March, and its tranche of the new EU recovery package is the largest.

Mr Renzi’s Italia Viva, formed in 2019, polls less than 3% currently, and surveys suggest that right-wing parties would come top in a snap election, were one to be called two years ahead of schedule.

Victory, but no resolution

Analysis box by Mark Lowen, Rome correspondent

Giuseppe Conte has survived – for now. But this is not the strong sign of parliamentary backing that he wanted.

If he continues as prime minister, it would mean each legislative move would need horse-trading and negotiations in the Senate. And that at the very worst time, in the grip of a pandemic that has killed more than 83,000 Italians and unleashed the deepest economic crisis since World War Two.

Other Italian prime ministers have commanded minority governments. And Giuseppe Conte could now decide to stay in office and seek a few extra backers in the coming weeks – possibly tempting them with a ministry or a change of policy.

But he may decide it’s time to pass the buck up to the president, who would hold discussions with party leaders to determine who could become prime minister or whether fresh elections would beckon.

So it’s another political crisis in a country that’s seen 66 governments since 1945. Exactly what it didn’t need as it battles through coronavirus.

2px presentational grey line
Chart showing cases in Europe

Donald Trump’s farewell: We did what we came to do

US President Donald Trump has made his farewell address before leaving office, saying: “We did what we came to do – and so much more.”

In a video posted on YouTube, he said he took on “the tough battles, the hardest fights… because that’s what you elected me to do”.

Mr Trump has still not fully accepted the result of last November’s election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Mr Biden will be sworn in as president on Wednesday. 

The last two weeks of Mr Trump’s term have been dominated by the fallout from the deadly riot on Capitol Hill, when a mob of his supporters stormed Congress, seeking to overturn the election result. 

“Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated,” Mr Trump said in his video, in which he did not acknowledge his successor by name.

What else did Trump say?

Mr Trump himself has been impeached for “incitement of insurrection” over the attack and will face trial in the Senate after he leaves office. If convicted, he could be barred from standing for public office.

He is the first president in US history to be impeached twice. At his first trial, he was cleared on charges relating to dealings with Ukraine by the majority from his own Republican Party. 

The politically motivated violence has overshadowed the growing toll from the coronavirus pandemic, in which more than 400,000 Americans have died and 24 million have been infected.

In his message, Mr Trump said his administration built “the greatest economy in the history of the world”. 

US stock markets have rebounded from the coronavirus pandemic, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq index up 42% in 2020, and the wider S&P 500 up 15%.

However, the rest of the economy is facing more of a struggle. Employers cut jobs in December, ending a string of job gains. Retail sales have dropped in recent months, while jobless claims rise.

He leaves office with an approval rating of 34%, a record low for a departing president.

“Our agenda was not about right or left, it wasn’t about Republican or Democrat, but about the good of a nation, and that means the whole nation,” he said. 

How is Biden preparing for office?

Mr Biden and his wife Jill Biden left their home state of Delaware on Tuesday to return to Washington, where the incoming president served as a senator for 36 years before becoming vice-president to Barack Obama from 2008 to 2016. 

“When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart,” he said in an emotional farewell speech. https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia caption”When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart”

On Wednesday, he will go to the White House and then the Capitol for his inauguration at 12:00 (17:00 GMT). 

This will be an inauguration like no other: Washington is under heavy security after the Capitol riots, with thousands of reserve soldiers from the National Guard deployed and metal fences around the White House. 

Only a limited number of people will be allowed on to the National Mall to witness his swearing in, in contrast to the hundreds of thousands who usually attend. 

Among those staying away will be Mr Trump. He flies to Florida on Wednesday morning – the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration since Andrew Johnson in 1869.

Biden economic plans challenged at Yellen hearing

US president-elect Joe Biden’s choice for treasury secretary has urged Congress to approve trillions more in pandemic relief and economic stimulus.

Janet Yellen

At her confirmation hearing, Janet Yellen said lawmakers should “act big” without worrying about national debt.

Republicans warned the former Federal Reserve head this was not the time for “a laundry list” of liberal reforms.

But Ms Yellen pushed back against senators at the hearing who warned her against raising taxes.

Ms Yellen’s appointment is expected to be approved, making her America’s first female treasury secretary.

She will enter the position as the US struggles to rebound economically from the hit caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Employers cut jobs in December, ending a string of job gains. Retail sales have dropped in recent months, while jobless claims rise.

“Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now and longer term scarring of the economy later,” Ms Yellen said.

‘Focus efforts on pandemic relief’

Both Republicans and Democrats have indicated they will approve Ms Yellen’s nomination. Democrats said they hoped she could be formally confirmed as soon as Thursday.

But Republican Senator Chuck Grassley provided an early glimpse of the stiff resistance the Biden administration is likely to face as it presses for emergency pandemic relief, as well as a second, larger package of spending focused on infrastructure, climate friendly jobs and other priorities.

“With the trillions already in the pipeline and close to $1tn in relief enacted just a few years ago, it is very important to focus efforts on the pandemic relief,” Mr Grassley said.

“Now is not the time to enact a laundry list of liberal structural economic reforms.”

Republican Senator John Thune at Yellen confirmation hearing
image captionRepublicans indicated opposition to much of the Biden administration’s economic agenda

Republicans pressed Ms Yellen on proposals to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy, more than double the national minimum wage to $15 per hour and distribute $1,400 stimulus payments to most families, which they said did not sufficiently target those in need.

Ms Yellen said many families that have seen incomes drop are not reached by jobless programmes and that plans to raise taxes must be seen in the context of financing bigger investments necessary to make the US economy competitive.

“The focus now is not on tax increases. It is on programmes to help us get through the pandemic,” she said.

She added that she hoped to see countries come together via the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to forge an agreement on how to tax multinational companies, making it easier for the US to raise corporate rates.

“We have much greater leverage to keep our American firms competitive if we avoid a global race to the bottom,” she said.

Janet Yellen
image captionJanet Yellen, who testified remotely, warned the US faces difficult months before vaccine distribution makes an impact

Ms Yellen also addressed concerns about the impact of further spending on American borrowing.

“Neither the president-elect nor I proposed this relief package without an appreciation of the country’s debt burden but right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big,” she said.

“In the longer run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs, especially if we care about helping people who have been struggling for a long time.”

What Ms Yellen said about global issues

  • China: Ms Yellen called China America’s “most important strategic competitor” and said the Biden administration was prepared to use a “full array of tools” to address its “abusive, illegal and unfair practices”.
  • Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang: Ms Yellen said China was “guilty of tremendous human rights abuses” in the region, which is home to the Uighur minority. However, she steered clear of using the word genocide.
  • Cryptocurrencies: She said there was a need for more regulation. “Many are used, at least in a transactions sense, mainly in illicit finance.”
  • Currency manipulation: She said the Biden administration would oppose any currency manipulation aimed at gaining a trade advantage.

UK and US fail to do mini-trade deal as Trump exits

The UK and US have failed to do a much hoped for “mini-deal” over trade in the last days of the Trump administration.

Scotch whisky
image captionUS tariffs have hit the Scotch whisky industry hard

There were hopes the US would lift tariffs on imports of Scotch whisky and cashmere imposed last year as part of the Boeing-Airbus trade dispute. 

But those duties will now stay in place while President-elect Biden awaits confirmation of his trade team.

The talks were revealed in a BBC interview with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in December.

At the time he said he was hopeful that he and his UK counterpart, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, could “get some kind of an agreement out”.

But the BBC understands that a broad offer from the US was rejected last week by the UK after concerns were expressed by the Business Department about the impact on Airbus’ business in the UK.

Since 2019, the EU and US have both imposed tariffs on each others’ goods over a long-running trade dispute between the planemakers Boeing and Airbus. 

Boeing plane at Factory
image captionThe tariffs centre on a long-running dispute between Boeing and Airbus

Earlier last month the UK’s Trade Department announced it would unilaterally break from the EU’s position of levying tariffs on imports of Boeing aeroplanes, after the end of the Brexit transition period. 

It was, said Ms Truss, an attempt to create goodwill to solve the 16-year old dispute. 

But the UK aerospace industry was furious with what it saw as the government reneging on promises made in early 2020 to support Airbus in the dispute, even after Brexit

These concerns were the main block to a deal, but the chaos in Washington DC over the past week also played a part.

The US was also looking for tariffs on its exports of bourbon to the UK – part of a separate trade dispute over steel – to be settled.

A government source said: “Ultimately we came close to resolving an intractable 16-year dispute, but didn’t quite get there. Any deal must be balanced and work for the whole UK and all of UK industry.”

They added: “No one has fought harder on this than Liz, and she’s going to continue pushing it with the Biden administration. She absolutely understands the pain of affected businesses and is determined to get these tariffs lifted and support jobs.”

The source said the government had pursued a clear “de-escalation strategy” with the Trump administration in the dispute which meant it had avoided being hit with further US tariffs, unlike the EU. 

Ms Truss still hopes to settle the dispute quickly and has committed to go to Washington DC to meet Katherine Tai, the new US Trade Representative, as soon as she assumes office, the source added, 

‘Deep disappointment’

Karen Betts, head of the Scotch Whisky Association, said her industry was “very frustrated” a deal was not reached.

“There is deep disappointment across the Scotch Whisky industry that distillers are still paying the price for an aerospace dispute that has nothing to do with us.

“The tariff on Single Malt Scotch Whisky, now in place for 15 months, has caused us to lose over £450m in exports to the US, and our losses continue to mount.

“The deal the UK and US were discussing at the end of the year, but in the end failed to agree, would have removed tariffs on Scotch Whisky and other products caught up in this, like cashmere.

Covid: Legal ruling ‘saviour’ for Wales’ food, drink and leisure firms

Firms thought they had paid for insurance cover when lockdowns first hit last year

A legal ruling on business insurance could be the “saviour” of Wales’ food, drink and leisure industries, according to lawyers.

Thousands of small firms had been told interruption of trade from Covid was not covered by policies.

But Supreme Court judges ruled that most policyholders hit during the first coronavirus lockdown did have cover.

Insurance firms have been urged to act quickly, with the sector expected to pay out close to £2bn.

Shop sign

“It’s a huge relief for the thousands of businesses who were denied insurance cover,” said Guto Llewelyn, of Capital Law.

His firm represents more than 100 businesses on the issue, many from Wales, across the hospitality sector, and also in the leisure, retail, healthcare and the creative industries.

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“The Supreme Court’s decision now shows that this collective pressure has finally borne fruit,” he explained.

“Now is the time for insurers to repair their reputation by respecting the court’s judgement and paying their policyholders as soon as possible.

“If they don’t, they expose themselves to legal action and serious reputational damage.

Eryl Williams,, founder of Asbri Golf

“Whatever it takes, we’ll fight for our clients until they get the money they’re owed and need to survive.”

‘Body blow’

Golf firm founder Eryl Williams said having a claim rejected was frustrating

While the hospitality industry has been particularly badly hit by Covid, many other companies were also affected by the insurers’ decision not to pay out.

Asbri Golf has 12 members of staff and has been trading since 2004 in Caerphilly, into a global market, and hopes to benefit from the ruling.

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“We got our original business interruption claim rejected, which was a body blow after the impact of the first lockdown on the company,” said founder Eryl Williams.

“We spend thousands on business insurance every year and have never claimed previously, so it was very frustrating when a legitimate claim was rejected because Covid-19 wasn’t written on the list of diseases, even though it didn’t exist when we took out the policy.”

How did this end up in court?

Thousands of small businesses were affected

In the lockdown of last spring, many small businesses made claims through business interruption insurance policies for loss of earnings when they had to close.

But many insurers refused to pay, arguing only the most specialist policies had cover for such unprecedented restrictions.

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This new ruling has come from a test case brought by watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and involved eight insurers.

It was agreed a selection of policy wordings should be tested in court, setting the parameters for what would be considered a valid claim.

The ruling provides guidance for a wider pool of 700 policies, potentially affecting 370,000 small businesses – although only some of these will end up with payouts.

The complex ruling covers issues such as disease clauses, whether business were denied access to the properties, and the timing of lost earnings.

Claims ‘will be settled’

“Insurers have supported this fast-track legal process every step of the way and we welcome the clarity that the judgment will bring to a number of complex issues,” said Malcolm Tarling, from the industry body, the Association of British Insurers.

Bar stools stacked on table behind a window displaying a closed sign

“The insurance industry expects to pay out over £1.8bn in Covid-19 related claims across a range of products, including business interruption policies. Customers who have made claims that are affected by the test case will be contacted by their insurer to discuss what the judgment means for their claim. 

“All valid claims will be settled as soon as possible and in many cases the process of settling claims has begun.”

Brexit: Paperwork ‘horror’ sparks anger from hauliers

The director of a haulage company says he has seen journey times treble due to EU red tape since Brexit.

A drone shot of lorries parked at Waterbrook lorry park

Joe Johal, MD of AOG Couriers, said extra paperwork, Covid-19 tests and long queues have caused huge delays.

He said that one job that should have taken six-hours, took his driver over 22 hours to complete.

The Government has said it will work with businesses to ensure they are able to trade under the new rules.

But Mr Johal says he is already losing out.

“We are losing orders, our clients are sourcing components from elsewhere,” he said.

Joe Johal taken from a Zoom interview
image captionMr Johal said new paperwork and processes are slowing down business.

AOG Couriers is based in Hillingdon and moves aircraft parts from warehouses in Crawley and Worthing to the continent.

He added: “We have so much more paperwork to do now, and loads more processes.

“Before Brexit we would have got from Crawley to Paris in six hours. On Friday it took us 22 hours.”

He said the driver had a six hour wait for customs documentation and was then told to go to lorry park before being instructed to go elsewhere.

“Earlier in the day he had a Covid test but the documents were wrong so he had to have another one,” Mr Johal added.

‘Waiting in rain’

Graham Pask from the Road Haulage Association, said a “seamless electronic process” that they had hoped for was not happening.

“Some of the horror stories down at Ashford are that drivers are waiting out in the rain for two or three hours with paperwork trying to get it cleared,” he said.

A Government spokesperson said the traffic management system in Kent is working well, with no significant queues into Dover or Eurotunnel.

She added: “We know there have been some delays at one of the new inland border facilities, but there is enough capacity across all the new sites.

“The Government will continue to work closely with businesses to ensure they are able to trade effectively under the new rules,” she added.

Joe Biden: Where does he stand on key issues?

When he formally announced his entry into the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden declared that he stood for two things – workers who “built this country”, and values that can bridge its divisions.

As the US faces challenges from coronavirus to racial inequity, his pitch is to create new economic opportunities for workers, restore environmental protections and healthcare rights, and international alliances.

With his inauguration less than a day away, here are the president-elect’s plans on eight key issues.

Section divider: Coronavirus

A national test and trace programme

Mr Biden’s approach to tackling coronavirus, the most immediate and obvious challenge facing the country, is to provide free testing for all and hire 100,000 people to set up a national contact-tracing programme.

He says he wants to establish at least 10 testing centres in every state, call upon federal agencies to deploy resources and give firmer national guidance through federal experts. He says all governors should mandate wearing masks.

Those suspicious of federal authority will see this as overreach, but it lies very much in line with Mr Biden’s and Democrats’ general view on the role government should play.

Section divider: Jobs and money

Raise minimum wage and invest in green energy

To address the immediate impact of the coronavirus crisis, Mr Biden has vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to extend loans to small businesses and increase direct money payments to families. Among the proposals are an additional $200 in Social Security payments per month, rescinding Trump-era tax cuts and $10,000 of student loan forgiveness for federal loans.

Mr Biden’s broader economic policies, dubbed his “Build Back Better” plan, aim to please two constituencies that traditionally support Democrats – young people and blue collar workers.

He supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 (£11.50) an hour – a measure that is popular among young people and that has become something of a totem figure for the party in 2020, and a sign of its move to the left. He also wants a $2tn investment in green energy, arguing that boosting green manufacturing helps working class union workers, who perform most of those jobs.

There is also a $400bn pledge to use federal dollars to buy American goods, alongside a wider commitment to enforce “Buy American” laws for new transport projects. Mr Biden was previously criticised for backing the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which critics say shipped jobs overseas. 

His 2021 plan calls for the federal government to invest $300bn in US-made materials, services, research and technology.

Section divider: Race

Criminal justice reform, grants for minority communities

In the wake of the race protests that have gripped the US last year, he said he believes that racism exists in the US and must be dealt with through broad economic and social programmes to support minorities. A pillar of his “build back” programme is to create business support for minorities through a $30bn investment fund.

On criminal justice, he has moved far from his much-criticised “tough-on-crime” position of the 1990s. Mr Biden has now proposed policies to reduce incarceration, address race, gender and income-based disparities in the justice system, and rehabilitate released prisoners. He would now create a $20bn grant programme to incentivise states to invest in incarceration reduction efforts, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, decriminalise marijuana and expunge prior cannabis convictions, and end the death penalty. 

However, he has rejected calls to defund police, saying resources should instead be tied to maintaining standards. He argues that some funding for police should be redirected to social services like mental health, and calls for a $300m investment into a community policing programme.

Section divider: Climate change

Rejoin global climate accord

Mr Biden has called climate change an existential threat, and says he will rally the rest of the world to act more quickly on curbing emissions by rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. The agreement, which Donald Trump withdrew from, committed the US to cutting greenhouse gases up to 28% by 2025, based on 2005 levels.

Though he does not embrace the Green New Deal – a climate and jobs package put forward by the left wing of his party – he is proposing a $1.7tn federal investment in green technologies research, some of which overlaps with the funding in his economics plan, to be spent over the next 10 years, and wants the US to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – a commitment that was made by more than 60 other countries in 2019. China and India, the two other biggest carbon emitters, have yet to join the pledge. The investments dovetail with his economic plan to create jobs in manufacturing “green energy” products.

Section divider: Foreign policy

Restore America’s reputation… and maybe take on China

Mr Biden wrote that as president, he would focus on national issues first. That said, there is little to suggest that Mr Biden’s values on foreign policy have shifted away from multilateralism and engagement on the world stage, in opposition to Mr Trump’s unabashedly isolationist one. He has also promised to repair relationships with US allies, particularly with the Nato alliance, which Mr Trump has repeatedly threatened to undermine with funding cuts. 

The former vice-president has said China should be held accountable for unfair environment and trade practices, but instead of unilateral tariffs, he has proposed an international coalition with other democracies that China “can’t afford to ignore”, though he has been vague about what that means.

Section divider: Health

Expand Obamacare

Mr Biden says he will expand the public health insurance scheme passed when he was President Barack Obama’s deputy, and implement a plan to insure an estimated 97% of Americans. Though he stops short of the universal health insurance proposal on the wish lists of the more left-wing members of his party, Mr Biden promises to give all Americans the option to enrol in a public health insurance option similar to Medicare, which provides medical benefits to the elderly and to lower the age of eligibility for Medicare itself from 65 to 60 years old. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan group, estimates that the total Biden plan would cost $2.25tn over 10 years.

Section divider: Immigration

Undo Trump’s policies

In his first 100 days in office, Mr Biden promises to reverse Trump policies that separate parents from their children at the US-Mexican border, rescind limits on the number of applications for asylum and end the bans on travel from several majority-Muslim countries. He also promises to protect the “Dreamers” – people brought illegally to the US as children who were permitted to stay under an Obama-era policy – as well as ensure they are eligible for federal student aid. 

Section divider: Education

Universal pre-school, expand free college

In a notable shift to the left, he has endorsed several big pieces of education policy that have become popular within the party – student loan debt forgiveness, expansion of tuition-free colleges, and universal preschool access. These would be paid using money gained back from withdrawing the Trump-era tax cuts.

US Capitol riots: Trump supporter arrested after Pelosi ‘data theft’

A Donald Trump supporter suspected of stealing a laptop or hard drive from Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s office during the US Capitol riots has been arrested.

Riley June Williams, 22, was detained in Pennsylvania on charges of violently and illegally entering the building, and disorderly conduct.

A former romantic partner had said in an affidavit Ms Williams intended to sell the data to Russian intelligence.

Five people died after a pro-Trump mob stormed Congress on 6 January.

Ms Williams’ case is among more than 200 that have been opened since the president’s supporters forced their way into the Capitol building as lawmakers met to confirm Joe Biden’s election win.

Ms Williams was arrested on Monday in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, police records show.

Riley June Williams, FBI handout
image captionAllegations against Ms Williams were made by a former partner in an affidavit

Ms Williams had surrendered herself to authorities, sources told CBS News.

The charge sheet lists “knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds”.

It makes no mention of the data allegations. The FBI is reportedly still investigating these claims, which were carried in a sworn statement presented by an FBI agent to a court.

View original tweet on Twitter

The affidavit says Ms Williams was seen in TV footage directing crowds who stormed the Capitol.

The FBI agent in the court filing says the agency was tipped off by a former romantic partner of Ms Williams who alleged she had intended to take a laptop or hard drive from the office of Ms Pelosi, the Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The witness “stated that Williams intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service”, the affidavit said.

The transfer of the device “fell through for unknown reasons”, the witness is alleged to have said, “and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it”.

Ms Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted two days after the attack that a laptop had been stolen from the speaker’s office but it was only used to give presentations.

The affidavit goes on to give details of an ITV News report from inside the Capitol building at the time of the siege, in which a woman identified as Ms Williams can be seen and heard directing the crowd to go up a staircase that leads to Ms Pelosi’s office.

View original tweet on Twitter

second ITV News report some days later has an interview with Ms Williams’ mother at their home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in which she confirmed her daughter was the woman in the TV footage. She said her daughter had left home without saying where she was going.

Security is tight ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday amid fears of further attacks by far-right groups and others who believe President Trump’s unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him.

Will the UK really refuse trade deals over human rights?

The UK is forging its post-Brexit path as a “confident, independent nation – and an energetic force for good”, according to the government.

It’s free to set trade on its own terms, pursue opportunities and higher living standards. But can it square profit with principle?

Is turning a blind eye to human rights violations worth it to have a trade deal that knocks a couple of quid off the price of an imported shirt?

That New Year’s resolution is already being tested, as China falls increasingly out of favour.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has referred to conditions, under which over a million Uighur Muslims are being held in camps and forced into work, as “at the worst… torture and inhumane and degrading treatments”.

He warned that British companies will face fines, if they can’t show that their supply chains are free from forced labour.

In December, a BBC investigation revealed thousands of Uighurs and other minorities have been compelled to toil in the cotton fields of Xinjiang. The region accounts for a fifth of the world’s crop – it’s not always easy to tell where your t-shirt hails from.

The UK and Canada have led the charge here, but one wonders how much further can it go.

Mr Raab told the BBC that the UK should not be engaging in free trade negotiations with countries whose record was “well below the level of genocide”.

Determining human rights abuses 

There are several issues with this: first, working out who gets to decree human rights abuses.

Amendments to the Trade Bill currently going through Parliament would oblige the government to assess the human rights records of potential partners.

Uighur people in Shayar village, Xinjiang
image captionIn July, Dominic Raab accused China of “gross and egregious” human rights abuses against its Uighur population

One amendment proposes allowing the High Court to declare a genocide in other countries, and forcing the immediate cancellation of trade deals with said nations.

Mr Raab, however, says the decision to declare a genocide can’t, and shouldn’t be, delegated to the courts. Rather, it’s for MPs to hold the government to account over trade deals.

But Labour MPs, who have written to their Conservative counterparts urging them to support the amendments, say they’ve already been denied powers of scrutiny. 

They highlight trade deals rolled over with Egypt, Cameroon and Turkey, with whom the UK previously enjoyed similar deals the EU had struck. 

These three countries, they argue, have questionable records on human rights. 

And then there’s China. The UK is not planning a deal with Beijing and has indicated it won’t do a deal with countries that don’t share its democratic values. 

But both nations have their eye on joining the wider Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. 

With imports and exports worth almost £80bn in 2019, China already scores as one of the UK’s largest trading partners, and it’s not just about frocks and financial services crossing borders. 

The question of China

Since Xi Jinping and David Cameron famously sipped a pint in a Buckinghamshire pub in 2015, Chinese investment in the UK has exploded, backing everything from football clubs to restaurant chains. 

Now China’s appeal has soured, but it may not be easy to back away from encouraging investment, or a trade deal which touts lower import prices and greater opportunities for exporters, when the UK economy is already reeling.

The Wolverhampton Wanderers
image captionThe Wolverhampton Wanderers are owned by Chinese investors Fosun International

Take textiles – a free trade deal would do away with a 12% tariff on clothes hailing from China. Ultimately, trade deals build on an existing – in this case very lucrative – relationship. 

Critics argue it’s not enough to refrain from boosting ties with nations with chequered records – they should be lessened. 

But it’s even harder to snub countries that are already providing jobs for thousands, or items from the frivolous, such as smartphones, to the vital, like billions of PPE items. 

Some say the UK has its own issues elsewhere. It resumed the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia last year, after the government said the method for licensing had been reformulated to ensure they wouldn’t be used in Yemen. Human rights groups are less sure.

Balancing its quest to be a responsible citizen, together with exploring fresh fortunes, is just one dilemma the UK faces, as it shapes its new identity on the global stage.

By Dharshini David
Global trade correspondent

How a robot investigator searched 60 million files

Imagine having to search through all the documents, emails and messages of a huge multinational company.

Yousr Khalil, Forensic accountant
image captionYousr Khalil was part of a team of 70 investigators

Yousr Khalil does not have to imagine. The forensic accountant was part of a team that had to ferret out proof of wrongdoing at the aerospace giant Airbus after it admitted paying bribes via middlemen.

“Airbus was like a tower block with 900 apartments in it. We had to decide which ones we were going to go into and investigate,” she says. 

Ms Khalil works for FRA, a forensic investigation business that supports legal cases across the globe.

But this was a case apart and FRA’s largest ever job.

In order to qualify for a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), Airbus opened up its operations to intense scrutiny in 2016.

The four-year project to root out corrupt practices helped Airbus reach the agreement with regulators in the UK, the US and Franceunder which it paid €3.6bn (£3bn) of fines in recognition of acts of fraud and bribery.

Airbus logo on the company headquarter's building, in the outskirt of Toulouse.
image captionAirbus had 60 million documents and transactions that needed analysing

Ms Khalil and a 70-strong team faced an ocean of files, transaction data and emails spanning worldwide activities, most of them entirely innocuous.

So how did they plot a course through?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and a bespoke computer unlike any PC you have ever worked on played a big part in this epic data trawl. 

A daunting collection of 500 million documents and transactions had to be whittled down.

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As data volumes are growing exponentially AI is being used more frequently in such investigations.

After duplicates and other irrelevant material were eliminated the investigators were left with 60 million documents for review. AI searched these for patterns and spotted snippets that were out of place, such as a sports sponsorship deal for $100m. 

How were relationships with Airbus staff while all of this was going on? “No business is ever really ready for a full forensic investigation,” Ms Khalil says, but her co-workers from Airbus were very responsive. “When the regulator pushed for a quick response on something they moved on it.”

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As if 60 million items were not enough of a challenge, 800 Airbus employees around the world were legally assigned as custodians of those documents. 

“You might have information spread across different items of media, such as laptops, storage devices, USB drives etc. We had to identify who was the custodian of that data,” says Greg Mason, founding partner and co-head of data analytics at FRA.

An Airbus A400 military aircraft performs a flying display on the opening day of the 52nd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, on June 19, 2019
image captionThe investigation was complicated by sensitive Airbus military projects

Seven secure investigation sites were set up. These allowed documents to be examined in complete security, a crucial point for Airbus. It is a vast business enmeshed with major European military aircraft projects. So the investigation had to devise a way to keep material that was nationally sensitive out of the picture.

Specialised software allowed the collection of information without seeing the entire document it came from, thus preserving secret defence information from prying eyes. 

In addition, bespoke, $100,000, computers, running multiple disks and with no connection to the internet were used.

This is called air gapping, providing a definite divide between sensitive data and the outside world of the internet.

Processing a mountain of data gets easier and faster if it’s treated as just that – data. FRA extracted the metadata, the information underlying every electronic document that defines what it is, and used this to index material so that irrelevant files could be stripped out.

AI formed the basis for this Technology Assisted Review (TAR).

AI was trained to search unstructured data such as emails. These are tough to scan unlike structured data contained in forms and columns.

Using the principle of machine learning, whereby the AI software sees multiple examples of a particular type of message and begins to spot which category they belong to, FRA was able to extract relevant documents at a pace. “The AI program looked for the context of messages, context is all,” Mr Mason observes.

The software was hunting for bribes that were arranged via codes, such as a doctor prescribing a medicine. By running examples of this kind of hidden message the software acquired the concept of medicine and then the concept of prescription. This meant it could wade through unstructured data and spot corrupt practices.

“As you identify more and more examples of covert payment the AI learns on the fly. That’s the beauty and the magic of AI,” says Mr Mason. A scoring system was set up, with points added for certain attributes. Any score above a certain number was deemed worthy of further investigation. The machine-learning technology became better and better as it progressed. 

Data representation
image captionArtificial intelligence can be trained to sift through millions of documents for anomalies

Mr Mason reckons only about 5% of the documents set aside were checked by people, but that still amounts to three million files. “AI is not a panacea, but it is pretty extraordinary how it learns.” 

A statistician by training, he is impressed by how AI technology makes short work of big numbers. “Even a small case today comes with an enormous volume of data.” 

He had to sell the novel concept of the TAR to regulators such as the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and get approval for what was not a traditional approach to an investigation. “This was the most complex investigation I had ever set up.” 

A four-year investigation sounds exhausting. But unmasking fraud with an AI assistant gave the team a lot of personal satisfaction. 

And their labours received a legal seal of approval.

Dame Victoria Sharp, one of the most senior civil court judges in England and Wales, summed up the far-reaching impact of this investigation with its prominent role for AI.

Speaking for the British end of the tri-national case in January 2020 she declared that Airbus “truly turned out its pockets and is now a changed company to that which existed when the wrongdoing occurred”.

By Michael Dempsey
Technology of Business reporter

‘My boss made me come to work and I caught Covid’

Jane works as an administrator for a private healthcare firm in Oxfordshire, a job she is expected to do from the office, even in lockdown.

However, since she caught Covid-19 at work before Christmas, she has chosen to work from home because she feels safer – something that is causing rankles with her boss.

“The office is so small and it is impossible to socially distance,” she tells the BBC. 

“My boss also didn’t follow guidelines when I got ill and no one was told to isolate. It was so irresponsible.”

Jane argues that her job, which is computer and phone-based, can be done easily from home. She feels that she is only following government guidelines. 

However, she says her boss wants her to come back in and she cannot hold out much longer: “I have a mortgage to pay, I can’t risk losing my home.” 

Under current lockdown restrictions, people across the UK who can work effectively from home should do so, including in areas such as healthcare.

Construction workers in masks

But there are concerns that bosses are breaking Covid safety rules, with the head of the UK’s unions calling for tougher enforcement.

Between 6 and 14 January, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) received 3,934 complaints relating to coronavirus and took enforcement action in 81 cases. 

That usually meant a verbal or written warning however, with only one company facing tougher action. 

Policing can be a problem as well, as some workers fear reprisals if they speak up. 

George says he works in the office of a construction firm where social distancing rules “are ignored or undermined”. He is torn about whether to complain. 

Worker getting temperature checked

He and 10 close colleagues could all do their jobs easily from home – and did so during the first lockdown – but that is not an option this time, even though half of them are over 60, with two people in the high-risk category. 

“I was given a template letter saying we are unable to work from home, despite all of us having done so easily for six months prior,” he tells the BBC.

“There’s only one way to report this internally and doing that clearly flags you for redundancy.”

He says the situation forces you to “weigh up having a job in the pandemic, or standing up for what you think is right”. 

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What are the rules on going to work?

Under current lockdown restrictions, people across the UK who can work effectively from home should do so. They should only travel to their workplace if they cannot do their job remotely.

This includes healthcare professionals, teachers, childcare providers, transport workers, people who work in construction or manufacturing, funeral directors, and essential retail workers.

For workplaces that remain open in England, employers must “carry out an appropriate Covid-19 risk assessment” to develop a “specific” strategy to stop the virus’s spread.

In England, guidelines set out strict measures which employers must follow, such as minimising the number of unnecessary visits to the office, frequent cleaning of workspaces and ensuring that staff observe 2m (6ft) social distancing wherever possible.

There is similar guidance for employers across a range of sectors in ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

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The HSE, which has done 33,000 site visits since March, told the BBC it continued to “scale up” its checks on employers. 

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) wants the government to strengthen enforcement and give the HSE more resources. 

Some say nothing will change, unless the government changes the rules to ensure only people doing essential work go in. 

John (not his real name) from Gloucester is part of a team installing smart meters in people’s homes for SSE, the energy company owned by Ovo. 

Construction workers having temperatures checked

He tells the BBC he doesn’t feel safe doing the job, which requires him to go into five or six people’s homes each day, usually for several hours at a time.

And while he accepts his job cannot be done from home, he thinks energy suppliers should only be doing essential emergency work as they did during the first lockdown, not installing smart meters which are largely about improving energy efficiency.

“We all know the quickest way to spread a virus is contact,” he tells the BBC, adding that he thinks staff like him should be furloughed.

“They have given us face coverings and gloves, but NHS staff wear high grade PPE and yet they are still dying.” 

An SSE spokeswoman said the safety and wellbeing of staff was its “primary focus” and that the firm was open to discussing furlough options with staff.

“We have created rigorous protocols for working in homes including the opportunity for both the engineer or customer to cancel an appointment, or abort a job, if they do not feel comfortable,” she said. 

‘Makes no sense’

Steve, who spent the last three months working at a fulfilment warehouse in Stoke-on-Trent, says he was shocked by the disregard for coronavirus rules at the site.

He said social distancing was “non-existent”, with people working “side by side”, but when he complained the managers did nothing. 

“They were more interested in getting the product out,” he adds.

However, he felt he had no choice but to keep working, even when he learned that someone in the warehouse canteen had come down with Covid. 

A spokesman for the government says it has worked with trade unions, businesses and medical experts to produce “comprehensive Covid-secure guidance”, so that businesses permitted to remain open can do so safely: “This is kept under review as our understanding of the virus develops.”

By Daniel Thomas
Business reporter

Melania’s jacket and nine other defining images of Trump’s presidency

After four years of President Donald Trump, the US is gearing up for a new leader on 20 January. 

We’ve put together a selection of some of the key moments from his presidency, from meetings with world leaders to celebrity guests at the White House.

Crowds at the 2017 inauguration

Crowds are seen gathered at Mr Trump’s inauguration ceremony on 20 January 2017.

Days after the ceremony, the president accused the media of lying about attendance, claiming that TV footage and photos of the inauguration had made the crowds look smaller than they were.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the media it had been “the largest audience to ever see an inauguration, period”.

The new president was reported to have been angry at unfavourable comparisons with photos from Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 which showed a significantly larger crowd size.

White Supremacists take part in a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on 11 August 2017

A torch-lit rally by the far-right and white nationalists through Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 drew comparisons with the Ku Klux Klan.

The following day a woman was killed and 19 were injured when a car ploughed into a crowd of counter-protesters in the university city.

In response, President Trump condemned violence by “many sides”, prompting a wave of criticism for appearing to make an equivalence between white supremacists and anti-racism protesters. 

It then took 48 hours for him to explicitly denounce far-right extremists. He eventually called “KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists repugnant to everything we hold dear” but the damage was done.

Three years later, Joe Biden said it was this hesitation that prompted his decision to run against him.

Trump surrounded by other world leaders at the G8 summit in Canada in 2018

Mr Trump frequently sparred with the US’s traditional allies and this was certainly in evidence at the G7 summit in Canada in June 2018. 

The meeting did not get off to a good start when prior to the summit he announced a 25% tariff on imports of steel and 10% on aluminium from the EU, Mexico and Canada. They all threatened retaliatory measures and the rift overshadowed the summit. French President Emmanuel Macron engaged in a Twitter spat with the president just hours before the summit. 

Other photos from the meeting showed more friendly relations between the leaders but the one pictured here was considered by many to reflect the underlying tensions of the gathering.

Mr Trump left before other leaders and claimed that America was “like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing”. 

Melania Trump wears a jacket which reads 'I really don't care, do u?'

First Lady Melania Trump is pictured wearing a jacket in June 2018 which reads “I really don’t care, do you?” during a trip to a migrant child detention centre. 

There was widespread speculation and criticism over what message Mrs Trump intended to send by wearing the jacket on that particular trip, particularly at a time when the president was coming under fire for his policy of separating children from their parents at the border. 

Mrs Trump’s spokeswoman said at the time “there was no hidden message” behind the coat.

However, the First Lady later admitted it had been a message “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticising me. I want to show them I don’t care. You could criticise whatever you want to say. But it will not stop me to do what I feel is right”.

Nancy Pelosi claps President Trump during his State of the Union address

Nancy Pelosi gives what many saw as a sarcastic clap at the end of Mr Trump’s State of the Union address in February 2019. Mr Trump called for compromise in politics during his speech. 

He broke traditional protocol by not waiting for the customary introduction from the House speaker before beginning his speech. 

Many on social media thought the political rivalry between the House speaker and the president was captured in this image. The photo, termed the “Pelosi clap”, quickly went viral. 

Mr Trump steps into the northern side of the military demarcation line dividing the two Koreas

Mr Trump walks into the northern side of the military demarcation line that divides North and South Korea in June 2019. In doing so, he became the first US sitting president to cross the line.

Mr Trump’s decision to meet Kim Jong-un without pre-conditions was unprecedented and stunned the world, particularly as it came after the pair had exchanged insults and threats.

Despite the apparent warming of relations, little concrete progress was made on negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programme and a second summit in Hanoi in 2019 broke down after the US refused Pyongyang’s demands for sanctions relief.

Kim Kardashian speaks alongside President Trump during a criminal justice reform event

Kim Kardashian-West speaks at a White House event about prison reform in June 2019. The reality TV star has had the ear of the president while campaigning for changes to the US justice system.

In 2018, she lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of a grandmother jailed for life. Alice Johnson was later granted clemency in a high-profile decision by Mr Trump. 

President Trump has already given pardons to 94 people and there is speculation he may pardon 100 others before he leaves office.

President Trump holds a bible in front of St John's Episcopal church in Washington DC

Mr Trump holds a bible in front of St John’s Episcopal Church, just across the road from the White House in June 2020.

Peaceful demonstrators had been cleared in nearby Lafayette Square with pepper spray and flash-bang grenades so that the president and his entourage could walk to the church.

He had earlier said he planned to “dominate the streets” to end weeks of civil unrest over the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. 

His actions prompted shock and anger from many religious leaders, who accused him of using religion for political purposes.

(From top) Eric Trump, son of the US President, daughter and Senior Advisor to the US President Ivanka Trump, US First Lady Melania Trump, daughter of the US President Tiffany Trump and Donald Trump Jr., son of the US President, are seen ahead of the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020

The Trump family watch as Donald Trump debates Joe Biden at their first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on 29 September 2020. 

They broke debate rules that all spectators wear masks – sparking the same criticism often aimed at their father for taking a cavalier attitude to the virus.

A few days after the debate, the president tested positive himself.

He spent three nights in a hospital receiving treatment before returning to the White House and declaring he felt “really good” and urging others not to be afraid of the virus.

Supporters of Donald Trump at the west entrance of the Capitol during the 'Stop the Steal' protest

Crowds of Trump supporters climb on the US Capitol in DC earlier this month following a “Stop the Steal” rally. 

It followed a 70-minute address by the president in which he exhorted them to march on Congress where politicians were meeting to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s win. The mob ransacked the Capitol building and attempted to enter the chambers where lawmakers were hiding. 

Five people, including a police officer, were killed. 

Mr Trump has since been impeached, becoming the first president ever to be impeached twice. But he denies charges that he inciting the mob to attack the Capitol.

UK not going to do anything to make EU ‘go crazy’

The UK has an opportunity to reform regulation that is derived from EU law, but won’t deliberately antagonise its biggest trading partner immediately after the Brexit deal.

That was one of the key messages sent to around 30 business leaders in a meeting led by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretaries of State of Business and International Trade. 

One business leader told the BBC that the government, “in the absence of enormous government spending power, given the state of the public finances, should look at whether deregulation could do some of the post-Brexit, post-Covid heavy lifting to stimulate business”.

Another said that there was an ideological divide within the Conservative Party about the potential to “rip up the rule book” when it came to regulation. 

However, the government has insisted that although all regulation that has entered UK law via membership of the EU is subject to review, there is no intention to lower or loosen standards on the environment and workers’ rights.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has previously denied newspaper reports that the government intends to use this opportunity to review EU derived rules on maximum working hours, scheduled breaks and holiday entitlement.

It comes after the Financial Times said some protections brought in under EU law – such as the 48-hour limit on the working week – could be scrapped.

New rules on rest breaks and changes to how holiday pay is calculated from overtime could be proposed, it added.

Mr Kwarteng insisted he wanted to “protect and enhance workers’ rights going forward, not row back on them”.

Attendees from some of the UK’s biggest companies described the meeting as “positive” and “a useful discussion”, but “light on detail”.

A row of closed shops in London due to lockdown
image captionShops are currently closed in London due to the third coronavirus lockdown

The BBC understands that the meeting opened with an upbeat message around coronavirus vaccination rollout and how that would restore the normal functioning of the economy, but no firm dates were given as to what could re-open and when. 

The overriding feeling from attendees who spoke to the BBC was that the government was very cognisant of the role business could and should play in its attempt to “Build Back Better”. 

The infrastructure connecting business and the government have been damaged over the last four years. 

However, most people on the call spoken to by the BBC say they detected a new and real ambition to mend those bridges. 

We have been here before. Lots of new leaves have been turned over when it comes to business and government relations. 

The acid tests may come first with the government’s response to the ongoing problems in EU-connected supply chains, which are severely affecting business and hauliers, and second with the Budget scheduled for 3 March, on which many questions will hang.

Simon Jack
Business editor