News diary 13-19 July: Ghislaine Maxwell in court and Leicester lockdown review due

Foresight News rounds-up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…

Monday

A new week brings with it a new round of coronavirus lockdown relaxations in Wales and Scotland. Patient residents of Wales will finally see the re-opening of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants in outdoor settings, though indoor spaces remain closed for the time being. Scotland’s relaxations, meanwhile, feature the re-opening of shopping centres and dentistry practices, with further easings including the return of indoor hospitality venues and hairdressers planned for Wednesday.

Attention in Westminster turns to the influential Intelligence and Security Committee, which is set to be revived after an absence of more than seven months. The House of Commons will vote on the committee’s proposed new membership on Monday, with its new chair expected to be in situ by the end of the week.

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Former Cabinet Minister Chris Grayling is seen as the leading contender for the job, though his potential elevation to the post has already prompted fierce criticism from opposition parties. The committee is already facing calls for the release of its long-delayed report on Russian interference in UK affairs, which Number 10 has been accused of stalling since it was finalised last October.

A fresh and final round of “restricted” talks on the future UK-EU relationship is scheduled to take place this week before the resumption of negotiations proper on 20 July. The discussions come after Michel Barnier and David Frost met for an informal dinner in Downing Street, where the familiar sticking points of access to fishing waters and business competition were on the agenda.

After an initially positive start the talks broke up early, with Frost suggesting that significant differences remain between the two sides and the window for an agreement in July rapidly closing.

Tuesday

The Office for Budget Responsibility publishes its fiscal sustainability report, a biennial projection for the UK’s public finances and analysis of long-term spending pressures. The report will set out three alternative economic scenarios based on different rates of recovery, and, while the watchdog said that the measures in Rishi Sunak’s summer statement were finalised too late to be included, their impact will be considered in “broad terms”.

Treasury figures released alongside the statement showed that the cost of tackling coronavirus was higher than the OBR’s own estimate, and the largely positive reaction to the Chancellor’s announcements will be quickly forgotten if today’s report  makes clear that tax rises, or even a return to austerity, will be required to tackle the deficit.

Ghislaine Maxwell (pictured) appears in court charged with multiple counts of child sex-trafficking. The former socialite and confidante of notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein allegedly facilitated and took part in the systematic abuse of underage girls between 1994 and 1997. Coming a year after Epstein’s suicide in jail, Maxwell’s arrest has reignited calls to investigate the many powerful men known to have associated with the pair, including Prince Andrew and Donald Trump.

Trump is the subject of a more personal exposé in the tell-all memoir of his niece, Mary Trump. The book, Too Much and Never Enough, includes damning allegations regarding the President’s habits of lying, bullying and manipulation. The publication comes amid a period of low approval for Trump, whose handling of the pandemic continues to see him falling behind in the polls as November approaches.

Wednesday

A temporary reduction in VAT on food and non-alcoholic drinks, accommodation and entry to attractions takes effect from today. The reduction to the lower 5% rate is intended to encourage spending in the ailing tourism and hospitality sectors and will remain in place until January, in contrast to the shorter-term Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

An IFS paper published before the announcement said a temporary VAT cut could help boost the economy, but only if timed and targeted properly. The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions is due to publish figures on the number of visitors to the UK’s leading attractions in 2019, giving some indication of how badly the sector may have suffered from the near-total closure for much of this year.

There should be plenty to discuss when Rishi Sunak appears before the Treasury Committee for a grilling on the contents of his summer statement. Committee chair Mel Stride said the statement was “characteristically thoughtful, creative and bold”, but may seek to follow up today on his warning about the levels of corporate debt at small and medium-sized firms. Labour members, meanwhile, are likely to repeat criticism over the targeting of some of the Chancellor’s schemes, along with the party’s fresh attack on what it called a stamp duty “bung” to second home owners.

Thursday

The European Court of Justice hears a case brought on behalf of Christian Brueckner, the man who German police last month identified as a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Brueckner, who was jailed in December for the 2005 rape of a 72-year-old American woman in Praia de Luz, Portugal, has challenged the conviction on the grounds that he was extradited from Italy in 2018 on different charges, and therefore shouldn’t have been tried for a separate crime. The case has led to speculation that Brueckner could be released if his appeal is successful, though the court is not due to issue an opinion at today’s hearing.

The ONS publishes the latest unemployment figures as well as data on the impact of the pandemic on the UK economy and statistics on the number of people claiming Universal Credit. As changes to the Government’s Job Retention Scheme loom next month, there are questions as to whether Sunak’s £1,000-a-head incentive for employers will be enough to stem a wave of redundancies. Critics warn that the incentive will used by businesses to bring back former full-time staff in a part-time capacity, leading to “large, suboptimal underemployment”.

Friday

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty appear before the Lords Science and Technology Committee to discuss the science of Covid-19, amid continued questions over whether the science supports the Government’s re-opening plans. At the Government’s most recent press conference announcing changes to England’s lockdown measures, Whitty warned that the  virus will continue to be present in the community at “significant” levels until at spring 2021.

EU leaders convene for a special in-person European Council meeting to discuss the bloc’s new long-term budget and the Covid-19 recovery plan. Despite meeting on 19 June to discuss the Multiannual Financial Framework, little progress had been made until last week, with leaders still divided on the allocation and conditions for accessing the recovery package as well as the size of the fund.

Seeking to break the deadlock, Council President Charles Michel presented a compromise proposal which maintained the €750bn recovery fund but reduced the overall budget to €1.074tn; it also includes a €5bn Brexit Adjustment Reserve to help countries most impacted by the UK’s departure.

A staple of the British summer season, The Proms kicks off its eight-week run with a coronavirus-enforced revision to its regular programme of classical music. This year marks the concert series’ 125th birthday, and the season combines archive performances from previous years with live music from the Royal Albert Hall in its later stages.

Saturday

The Government is due to review lockdown restrictions in Leicester, 14 days after shops and schools were closed again as a result of a local spike in Covid-19 cases. An investigation found that poor working conditions in garment factories in the city may have contributed to the rise in cases(mirroring the recent outbreak in a German abattoir), and as a result of the increased public scrutiny some fast fashion outlets such as Boohoo have faced backlash for their employment practices.

Manchester City and Arsenal meet at Wembley in the first semi-final of this season’s FA Cup competition. Despite losing their Premier League crown to Liverpool, Pep Guardiola’s team could still secure a domestic double this season having already claimed the League Cup in March. The second semi-final sees Manchester United taking on Chelsea on Sunday.

Sunday

War-torn Syria holds delayed parliamentary elections, though voting only takes place in the government-controlled regions of the country, or areas where it exerts partial control, such as Idlib. The vote, which comes ahead of a planned presidential election next year, has been postponed twice due the coronavirus pandemic.

It also follows President Bashar al-Assad’s sudden sacking last month of Prime Minister Imad Khamis, potentially a recognition of some discontent at conditions in the country. Nevertheless, as in the last elections, held in 2016, the Ba’ath-dominated National Progressive Front alliance is certain to continue its dominance of the toothless Majlis al-Sha’ab (People’s Assembly).

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: AP Photo/John Minchillo

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