Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 23 Dec 2020
The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am
France agrees to reopen border
A mass coronavirus testing programme for lorry drivers will relieve congestion at British ports following an agreement to reopen the border between France and the UK. Rail, air and sea services from Britain will resume this morning after Paris agreed to ease the ban imposed after the discovery of a new strain of Covid. “I am pleased we have made this important progress with our French counterparts this evening,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Von der Leyen takes control
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, has seized personal control of Brexit negotiations in an attempt to strike a deal before Christmas, according to widespread reports. She is said to be in constant contact with Boris Johnson and EU capitals. A new British offer on fishing was tabled after she held a telephone call with Johnson that was kept from Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator.
Trump pardons Blackwater killers
Donald Trump has pardoned four Blackwater security guards who were given prison sentences for killing 14 civilians in Baghdad in 2007. Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten were part of an armoured convoy that opened fire indiscriminately with machine-guns and grenade launchers on a crowd of unarmed people in the Iraqi capital. The massacre caused global outrage.
Tier 4 ‘to grow on Boxing Day’
Ministers are expected to announce today that more areas of England will be placed into Tier 4 restrictions, introduced in response to the new strain of Covid, from Boxing Day. Government sources have also warned that there is a “high chance” of a full national lockdown in the New Year. Yesterday, Britain recorded 691 coronavirus deaths - the second highest daily toll since last May and a jump of a fifth in one week.
Israel plunged into new elections
Israel will hold its fourth round of elections within the space of two years after the failure of a fractious coalition government caused more political chaos. Benny Gantz, the former head of the opposition who joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition in May, has been unable to agree a budget with the prime minister. The Guardian says the administration has been “beset by infighting and distrust”.
Sturgeon apologises for mask error
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised after she was pictured breaching Covid-19 restrictions by taking off her face mask at a funeral. “I was in the wrong, I'm kicking myself and I'm sorry,” said Sturgeon, after a photograph, published by the Scottish Sun, showed her chatting to three women in a bar while standing at a distance but not wearing a mask.
Health chiefs call for vaccine acceleration
NHS bosses have raised concerns about the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine and asked the government to speed up distribution. With more than half of hospital trusts and two-thirds of GPs yet to receive supplies, Dr Richard Vautrey, the chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: “We need millions of doses to be made available as soon as possible - urgently.”
Workers reveal harsh Boohoo conditions
The fashion brand Boohoo is selling garments made by Pakistani factory workers who say they face inhumane conditions and earn as little as 29p an hour. Insiders told The Guardian that workers sometimes do 24-hour shifts. They say they are paid 10,000 Pakistani rupees (£47) a month, well below the legal monthly minimum wage for unskilled labour of 17,500 rupees.
Bond studio MGM up for sale
The Hollywood studio MGM is up for sale with a price-tag of more than $5bn (£3.7bn). The home of the James Bond and Rocky franchises has explored a sale several times in recent years, most recently in January, when talks were held with Netflix and Apple among others. MGM owns a library of 4,000 film titles and 17,000 hours of TV programming, including Gone with the Wind and The Hobbit.
Tesco imposes limits on toilet roll
Tesco has introduced buying limits on items including toilet roll, eggs, rice, soap and handwash. The limits are believed to be pre-emptive measures to help smooth demand in the next few weeks, rather than a reaction to shortages or a change in buying behaviour. Supermarkets and wholesalers have reported of shortages of lettuce, broccoli and citrus fruit.