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Yes, No, Maybe?

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

No question, the Prime Minister’s keeping us guessing. Just as he seeks international accord over Northern Ireland, he seems bent on breaking international law over asylum seekers. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, his diplomatic politesse can’t prevent collision in the courtrooms.

Rishi Sunak’s summit with the French President does in itself mark a sea change in the British government’s approach, as it’s the first in five years.

But there’s something drearily familiar about the bartering over whether it’s down to us or them to prevent people crossing The Channel in small boats.

And Britain’s new crackdown, which ministers admit probably falls foul of the European Convention on Human Rights, doesn’t do much for the mood music.

Doesn’t do much for consensus here either.

Early polling suggests more than half of us are up for a yearly cap on the numbers of refugees allowed to stay here.

But the soccer geezer Gary Lineker wasn’t so struck on the bill’s central aim, which amounts to locking up then chucking out everyone who makes it here.

Comparing the policy to the egregious cruelties of Nazi Germany was perhaps a shade lurid, and earned him a bust-up with the Beeb. Match of the Day? He’s been sent off.

But it’s got Auntie tearing her hair out, as fans and colleagues back him.

They also like his defiant follow-up: ‘I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice.’

Good thing too, says the United Nations Refugee Agency, which accuses the government of: ‘Extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the UK.’

Seems they have a point, as the Home Secretary had to admit she couldn’t say how someone fleeing persecution could come here via a safe and legal route.

Not that that once stopped her describing the arrivals as ‘an invasion’.

She obviously hasn’t spent much time in Ukraine, where she’d get a clearer handle on what an invasion actually looks like.

That said, Rishi Sunak has also made it one of his top priorities to sort out the migrant ‘crisis’. And it’s worth considering whether that too amounts to loose talk.

Of course an influx of people creates pinch points, extra demands on local services in specific areas.

But it’s not in the same league as another of Sunak’s headline promises, to slash inflation – which impacts the life of all of us.

It’s also worth keeping a sense of proportion.

The UK’s population is currently just under seventy million. Next to which the forty-five thousand who managed little boat crossings last year are rather small beer.

Still, we’re full up, rage leader writers in right-wing tabloid newspapers.

Given that not that far short of a million babies are born here each year, it’s lucky those same columnists aren’t calling for a Chinese-style one-child only limitation.

Only joking? Well, only half, actually. Not for nothing are our sensible papers described in the biz as ‘heavies’, while better-selling lighter reads are called ‘comics’.

But evidence of lazy journalism abounds, as it’s not just Sunak who sometimes forgets that words mean things.

New research suggests that more that five hundred seriously ill patients died last year because the health service failed to get life-saving treatment to them in time.

And a report by the Royal College of GPs is warning that, thanks to ‘insurmountable pressures’, a quarter of practices may not survive, thus crashing the system.

One way and another then, yep, the NHS really is in crisis.

Then there’s climate change. Given the huge death and displacement toll following an endless succession of freak weather events, that too is definitely a crisis.

Statistically, we’re more likely to get snow in March than December. But Storm Larisa-lashed people might nonetheless have been wondering what the hell is going on.

Meanwhile, Tory MPs doubtless are wondering what the hell’s wrong with the Chancellor, not putting a smile on their faces in this week’s budget.

Britain’s longest established economics think tank reckons Jeremy Hunt will have nearly a hundred billion pounds more to spare than he thought.

But Treasury sources are already poo-pooing the figure. ‘With a headroom that large, you could abolish income tax,’ sighed one.

That’s not going to happen, for a start. He is expected, however, to extend the cap on what we pay for energy for a few more months. Folk would warm to that, pun intended.

He could also reheat (not another pun, ed) Liz Truss’s wonderful wheeze of setting up special investment zones to boost growth where it’s particularly needed.

That might serve as a sop to those MPs complaining that the newly-announced delay to the High Speed Two train project proves that ‘levelling up’ really is just a slogan.

At least the government is in deadly earnest about doing its bit for the tormented people of Ukraine. Hence the expected four to five billion pound boost to our war machine.

That’s only about half of what the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has been angling for. But, as the slogan goes, every little helps.

Boris Johnson, by contrast has been getting lashings of it for his off-piste work, trousering a cool five million since leaving office – fifty times his MP’s pay.

He’s also been doling it like there’s no tomorrow, which there probably isn’t in his case, in the form of honours scattered like confetti to all and sundry.

Including, to pretty much universal horror, a nomination for knighthood for his own father.

Given that Stanley Johnson stands accused of inappropriate touching by two women and of breaking the nose of his ex-wife, the naughty step would seem more fitting.

Little wonder a YouGov poll found that only four per cent of voters backed Bozza on that one. Which doesn’t augur well for his comeback.

Still, nothing’s for ever. Alas, poor Margaret Lake passed away, at the age of eighty, last week.

At the risk of offending her many fans, however, this probably didn’t surprise her, as she was the nation’s top astrologer, writing under the name Mystic Meg.

On a cheerier note, another stargazer has been honoured for her work in an altogether less controversial way than Johnson Senior.

British scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock is best known for presenting the BBC’s The Sky At Night.

She also helped create the largest space telescope ever made, and is the first black woman to win gold at the Physics News Awards.

Her reward? A special Barbie doll, made to look like her and designed, she hopes, to help smash stereotypes.

‘When I was little,’ she said, ‘Barbie didn’t look like me, so to have one created in my likeness is mind-boggling.

‘I hope my doll will remind girls that, when you reach for the stars, anything is possible.’

Or, in Oscar Wilde’s epigrammatic phraseology: ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’

Watch Peter’s report HERE


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