News diary 15-21 March: Johnny Depp seeks permission to appeal Sun libel loss and census day arrives

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

Monday

The ONS releases the annual inflation shopping basket of goods and services which are used to calculate the cost of living and which also reflects changes in consumer trends. Last year’s release came too early to consider the impact of the pandemic on spending habits, with an increase in environmentally friendly purchases the notable trend (along with canned gin). The question for this and future editions will be how many of the Covid-related changes prove to represent lasting shifts in consumer behaviour.

The world marks a grim milestone with the tenth anniversary of the uprising in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad, who was recently diagnosed with coronavirus, continues to enjoy a solid grip on power, despite one of the most brutal civil wars in modern history. In New York, the UN Security Council meets to mark the occasion.

Tuesday

The government releases the much-anticipated integrated defence and foreign policy review, setting out Boris Johnson’s vision for ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’. Ahead of its release, the review sparked concerns both at home and among global partners that core defence duties could fall victim to a post-Brexit re-framing of international priorities. The Prime Minister moved last week to quell such fears, dispatching Dominic Raab for talks in Estonia and Norway to re-enforce Britain’s commitment to security in the European neighbourhood.

Sadiq Khan sets out his vision for the future of London at a virtual City Hall-hosted summit on the capital’s road to recovery. The incumbent Mayor launched his re-election campaign this month with a pledge to focus on jobs and spend more of his budget on London’s economy in his second term. The election appears to be Khan’s to lose, despite the emergence of the actor Laurence Fox as a candidate, though disruption at his campaign launch event suggests the path to victory may not be entirely smooth.

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson comes before the High Court in the latest phase of the legal action brought by Syrian teenager Jamal Hijazi. The self-styled activist, appearing under his real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is being sued over comments relating to a video posted on social media in 2018 which showed Hijazi being attacked in a school playground. Robinson told a hearing earlier this month that he could not afford legal counsel and planned to represent himself in the libel action.

Wednesday

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, which would normally see leaders from Dublin and Belfast head to Washington DC to celebrate Irish-American ties. There are no in-person meetings planned this year, though Taoiseach Micheál Martin and President Joe Biden mark the occasion with virtual talks. Biden’s perceived pro-Dublin sympathies mean the meeting is still likely to be closely watched in London, especially given recent tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed as part of Brexit and recent briefings provided to Biden’s allies in Congress on the developments.

Dominic Cummings, former Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister, gives evidence to the Science and Technology committee on the government’s plans to establish a new high-risk research body, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA). The agency was a Cummings brainchild during his time in Downing Street, and his appearance in front of the committee, together with the announcement of his new technology consulting firm, may raise questions over his future role in the government-funded body after last year’s ignominious departure from No.10.

World Health Organization director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus joins Mariana Mazzucato, Chair of the WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All, for a virtual discussion at the LSE on the human and economic value of health in the Covid-19 era. The event is slated to cover the equitable distribution of vaccines, which has taken on increased significance following revelations that 34m vaccine doses have been exported from the EU despite shortages for people living in the bloc and a rise of Covid-19 cases in central Europe.

Thursday

The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee announces its second interest rate decision of 2021, with the base rate expected to remain at 0.1%. While the committee is publicly content to maintain the record-low rate, the Bank’s chief economist Andy Haldane has made a series of warnings in recent months about the risk of inflation rising as the economy recovers. Today’s decision may offer an indication of the MPC’s thinking about future rate rises, particularly if last month’s unanimous vote is not repeated.

Actor Johnny Depp appears at the Court of Appeal as he seeks formal permission to challenge the result of last year’s blockbuster civil trial against The Sun. The Pirates of the Caribbean star lost his battle for damages in November over an article which referred to him as a ‘wife beater’ during his marriage to Amber Heard. Depp is also pursuing a separate defamation case against his former wife in the United States, though the action is not expected to come before a judge until next year.

Friday

The Liberal Democrats hold the first national political party event of the year with a virtual version of the party’s annual spring conference. Almost six months into his leadership and with the party polling in single figures, Ed Davey faces a dual challenge in re-shaping his party’s post-Brexit identity and improving its electoral performance. A strong pitch in his leader’s speech on Sunday seems a good place to start.

The weekend begins with some much-needed comic relief and charitable deeds for Red Nose Day. This year’s event fortunately coincides with the majority of UK children returning to school, where millions of pounds are typically raised through appeals, challenges and other fun activities. As usual, the bi-annual fundraising extravaganza culminates in a TV special on BBC One at 7pm, this year featuring Harry Styles, Jack Whitehall and the return of the Vicar of Dibley.

Saturday

The conclusion of the Guinness Six Nations is the cornerstone for a bumper weekend of sport, as Wales continue their hunt for a second Grand Slam title in three years. Barring a sizeable upset at the hands of Italy in round four, Wayne Pivac’s side face France in a winner-takes-all clash. Elsewhere Everton host Manchester City in the pick of the FA Cup Quarter Final matches, England wrap up their T20 series with India in Ahmedabad, and the US college basketball ‘March Madness’ tournament gets underway.

Sunday

It’s a ‘digital-first’ Census Day in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as the decennial household survey takes place primarily online. Alongside the usual questions on nationality, employment and marital status, households will be asked about military service, mental health, and energy systems. This is also the first census to feature a voluntary question about gender identity, though the wording of guidance about how to answer it was required to be changed after a legal challenge by the Fair Play For Women campaign.

The UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination falls this year with front pages still dominated by questions of race in modern Britain. It follows The Duchess of Sussex’s revelation that a member of the Royal family had ‘concerns’ over the colour of her baby’s skin, reigniting discussions around institutional racism in Britain and ultimately leading to the resignation of two high-profile figures from the UK media.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

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