Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…
Boris Johnson sets out his lockdown exit strategy for England, with crunch decisions due on the reopening of schools and restrictions on businesses and social interaction. The Prime Minister said last week that his roadmap would be informed by “data not dates”, and latest results from the React-1 study suggest lockdown has been having the desired effect. Business leaders and prominent Conservative backbenchers are among those calling for a rapid relaxation of current measures, so the pressure is on Johnson to satisfy those desperate for a quick return to normality while proving he is still being guided by science.
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Pupils in Wales and Scotland begin a phased return to classrooms as both countries mark major milestones in their tentative easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Classrooms in Wales have been empty since before Christmas, and First Minister Mark Drakeford insists the impact of the now nine-week-old lockdown has allowed for “a small amount of headroom”. Nicola Sturgeon is following a similar tactic north of the border, while cautioning that a return for schools will not lead to a rapid rollback of the wider stay-at-home order.
Boris Johnson moves to the international stage, chairing a high-level open debate at the UN Security Council on security risks in climate-vulnerable contexts, with several other leaders likely to participate. The debate comes ahead of the key UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow in November, and just days after the US formally re-joined the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The Prime Minister also delivers a video message to the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) virtual conference. Other high-profile speakers discussing the future of agriculture and horticulture in the UK include Labour leader Keir Starmer, Environment Secretary George Eustice and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss. After NFU President Minette Batters told the NFU Scotland conference last week that the UK “have been lazy exporters”, the importance of striking trade deals will likely be a hot topic at this year’s conference.
Alex Salmond may yet appear before Holyrood’s committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against him, as the saga over his evidence submission was seemingly resolved with an agreement to publish a redacted version. While Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of the committee have welcomed the decision, and Sturgeon’s spokesman said it “changes nothing”, her SNP colleague George Adam said it could jeopardise the anonymity of complainants and warned it would send the message that “women should not dare to seek to hold powerful men to account”. Salmond’s testimony today would set the stage for Sturgeon herself to appear next week as the committee looks to wrap up its inquiry before parliament is dissolved ahead of May’s elections.
Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič are due to lead a full meeting of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee by today at the latest, one of Gove’s last Brexit meetings before David Frost takes up his new ministerial role on 1 March. The pair’s discussions in London earlier this month were constructive but ultimately fruitless, and politicians in Dublin and Belfast afterwards remained at odds over article 16 enforcement. Šefčovič told an Irish parliamentary committee last week that he expected to reach a resolution by today.
The BBC leads the nominations at the RTS Television Journalism Awards in categories including News Channel of the Year and Breaking News for its coverage of Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 hospital admission. The plaudits are sure to be welcomed by director-general Tim Davie amid ongoing criticism of the licence fee and with the looming arrival of new rivals. Also up for gongs are Sky News, Al Jazeera, ITN and CNN.
HMRC publishes statistics on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for the final time before next month’s Budget. The figures give a breakdown of furlough scheme claims by sector, geography, age and gender, and will give an indication of the scale of the decision facing the Chancellor when he considers whether to extend or draw down the scheme. Last month’s data showed an increase in furloughed jobs for the final two months of 2020, and the Resolution Foundation last week estimated that 4.5m people benefitted from the JRS over the current lockdown period.
EU leaders hold the first of two virtual meetings this week to discuss coordination of efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Talks are likely to include the ongoing row over the European Commission’s vaccine procurement efforts, which Ursula von der Leyen has defended, as well as plans to deal with new variants of the virus. A recently-announced expansion of the contract with Moderna is likely to boost von der Leyen’s case that the Commission’s handling of the crisis should not be judged too quickly. The second meeting, on security issues, takes place tomorrow.
The US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee meets to consider whether to grant emergency use authorisation for the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. Approval of the one-dose vaccine will be crucial to ramping up the pace of vaccinations, which currently lags behind the UK, Israel and the UAE. As the nation approaches half a million deaths and relief makes slow progress through Congress, all eyes are on whether President Joe Biden can fulfil his ambitious goal of vaccinating all Americans by the end of July.
Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey delivers a major speech to present Labour’s defence and security policies following on from Keir Starmer’s big economic set piece. Ahead of the speech, Labour has accused the Conservative Party of presiding over a “decade of decline” in the UK’s armed forces, calling for an annual report on its capabilities.
Wales welcome England to Cardiff in the highlight of Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations action, in a match which will hugely influence this year’s title picture. A win for the as-yet undefeated Wales hands them the Triple Crown and keeps them on course for a Grand Slam decider in Paris. A victory for England puts them firmly back in the championship picture, with games against France and Ireland still to come.
The Scottish Labour leadership election concludes, with former deputy leader Anas Sarwar or Health and Sport spokesperson Monica Lennon taking over from Richard Leonard following his resignation on 14 January. In the wake of polls showing Labour nearly 25 points behind the SNP, Lennon has acknowledged the need for Labour to accept a fresh independence referendum, while Sarwar has gone on record saying any new vote on independence would be “deeply irresponsible”.
The Hollywood awards season kicks off late this year with the Golden Globes, which will see Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosting a bi-coastal ceremony from Los Angeles and New York, respectively. While the nominations list won plaudits for including a record three female directors – only five had previously been nominated in the awards’ history – it also sparked immediate controversy for including the likes of critically-panned Emily in Paris while overlooking Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. It looks set to be a good night for Brits, with a host of stars nominated and perennial favourite The Crown leading the TV shortlists.
Marty Baron (pictured) steps down as executive editor of the Washington Post after eight years in the role. The former long-time editor of the Boston Globe is said to have had a transformational impact on the Post’s newsroom, leading the paper to win 10 Pulitzer Prizes for its reporting on issues including NSA surveillance, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the climate crisis. Overseeing the transfer of ownership to Jeff Bezos and doubling the paper’s team of journalists, Baron leaves a very different newsroom to the one he inherited.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.