Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 20 May 2021

The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am

1

Variant may delay ‘freedom day’

The government is considering diluting plans for “freedom day” in England on 21 June as cases of the Covid variant first detected in India continue to rise. Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday said an announcement will be made on 14 June. Scientists have suggested that the Indian variant may not be as transmissible as first feared, with the recent surge in cases partly being driven by the “founder effect” - when a small number of people infect a larger number than normal, sparking a change in the dominant strain.

2

Major rail overhaul

Ministers have announced the biggest overhaul of the UK’s railways since privatisation in the 1990s. The reforms will see the creation of a new state-owned body, Great British Railways, which will set timetables and prices, sell tickets in England and manage rail infrastructure. Boris Johnson said he was “a great believer in rail”, but added: “For too long passengers have not had the level of service they deserve.”

3

Hamas says ceasefire coming

A Hamas official has said that he expects Israel and Gaza militants to agree a ceasefire “within a day or two”. However, as rocket fire and air strikes continued, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “determined to carry on” until “calm and security are restored to Israeli citizens”. There were more than 100 Israeli air strikes on Hamas infrastructure in the north of Gaza early on Thursday. Gaza militants retaliated with rocket fire at targets in Israel.

4

Bitcoin value falls 30%

Bitcoin fell below $34,000 (£24,030) for the first time in three months yesterday as China imposed fresh curbs on cryptocurrencies. The regime in Beijing banned banks and payment firms from providing services related to cryptocurrency transactions. The Guardian’s financial editor, Nils Pratley, said the 30% one-day fall in Bitcoin’s value “looks like a turning point” for the volatile cryptocurrency. The Bank of England has also warned that investors should be prepared to lose out if they dabble in cryptocurrencies.

5

Ice breaks in Antarctica

A section of ice almost four times the size of New York City has broken off from the frozen edge of Antarctica into the Weddell Sea. The European Space Agency says the slab has become the largest iceberg afloat in the world. Although calving off of large chunks of ice shelves is part of a natural cycle, some ice shelves along the Antarctic peninsula have undergone accelerated disintegration, a trend that experts attribute to climate change.

6

House Republicans defy Trump

The US House of Representatives has voted for a commission to investigate the Capitol riot. Thirty-five Republicans defied their party leaders and former president Donald Trump to side with Democrats by 252-175 to establish the probe. The inquiry would be modelled on the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks, however, the BBC says the bill looks unlikely to pass the Senate.

7

Rhodes statute must go, panel says

An independent commission has recommended that Oxford University’s statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes should be removed. The commission was launched last summer after Oxford University’s Oriel College voted in favour of removing the statue. It also encouraged Oriel College’s governing body to publish a statement of its view concerning its association with Rhodes. The Guardian says nearly 70 tributes to slave traders and colonialists have been removed nationally since last summer’s protests.

8

Civil service still privileged

Top civil servants are as privileged today as they were 50 years ago, a report backed by the government has concluded. The Social Mobility Commission found that fewer than one in five civil servants come from a working-class background. It pinpointed a number of barriers that prevented staff from progressing up the ranks on Whitehall, including officials who insist on using Latin in meetings.

9

Inquiry ‘to find Bashir guilty’

An official inquiry has reportedly concluded that Martin Bashir did deploy deceitful methods in a breach of BBC editorial rules to secure his famous interview with Princess Diana. The Telegraph says a well-placed source has described the verdict, due later this week, as the BBC’s “phone hacking moment”, a reference to the scandal that hit the News of the World. The six-month inquiry was conducted by Lord Dyson, the former Master of the Rolls.

10

Bluffing ‘a sign of intelligence’

The ability to bluff is a sign of intelligence, according to researchers. The study, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, tested people’s ability to define made-up terms. It found that the best bluffers were the cleverest people, but also found that just because you are clever, that does not automatically mean you are good at bluffing convincingly. One researcher said: “Bullshitting is quite fundamentally human and might actually demonstrate intelligence in a very human way.”

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