News diary 25-31 May: Historic SpaceX ISS mission and Scotland begins easing lockdown restrictions

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

Monday

Brits spending another sunny bank holiday in a (slightly eased) lockdown will be casting envious glances at their Spanish counterparts as some provinces move into the next phase of de-escalation, with restaurants, cinemas and theatres re-opening at a limited capacity.

Children under the age of six and those preparing for university entrance exams can also return to school, but regional education officials have already rejected a return for the youngest children, citing the impossibility of social distancing, a move that will sound familiar to some councils in England.

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The residents of Ambridge return to the airwaves in the first new episodes of The Archers to be broadcast since April. Recording stopped in March as social distancing requirements saw production halted on several TV and radio stalwarts, with archive episodes broadcast this month as efforts to record new material stalled. Producers said that coronavirus will be reflected in storylines when the show returns, making it one of the first dramas to venture into fictionalised viral-hit territory.

Tuesday

Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee is expected to select a new general secretary for the party at its meeting today. Incumbent Jennie Formby, a close ally of former leader Jeremy Corbyn and the influential Unite boss Len McCluskey, announced her departure at the beginning of May amid disappointment at the party’s performance in last year’s election and criticism of her handling of anti-Semitism allegations.

Candidates to replace Formby include former Blair-era aide David Evans, reportedly Keir Starmer’s pick for the job, former Co-operative Party general secretary Karin Christiansen, and NEU president Amanda Martin. Unite political director Anneliese Midgley had been considered a frontrunner until last week, when she announced that she had instead taken on a role as senior special adviser to Starmer.

The borrowing limit on the government loan scheme for larger businesses gets a substantial increase from today. The funding available through CLBILS, which is targeted at mid-sized firms not eligible for the Bank of England-managed CCFF scheme, increases to £200m after poor take-up in comparison to other schemes and complaints that the initial £50m limit was too low.

The extension comes at a price, however, with successful applicants expected to “show restraint” on executive pay and refrain from paying out dividends for the duration of the loan period.

Wednesday

Despite the parliamentary recess, there’s still some select committee action to look forward to, including Michael Gove and David Frost’s appearance before the Brexit committee to discuss the progress of talks with the EU.

The last round of negotiations was followed by a terse exchange of letters between Frost and his counterpart Michel Barnier, and the two sides appear to be digging their heels in as the prospect of a stalemate becomes more likely.

The Government has now set out its stall on several critical areas and opposition parties continue to press for an extension to the transition period, leaving Hilary Benn and co. with plenty to chew over at what could be a blockbuster session.

The Office for National Statistics publishes landmark data on life under the coronavirus restrictions, focusing on how people across the UK spent their time between 28 March and 26 April.

The ONS’ work during the pandemic has already offered intriguing insights; in a release earlier this month on Covid-19’s social impact on the UK, just 22% of Brits said that the country would re-emerge from the crisis a more equal society, while 46% believed the country would not return to normal until the end of 2020 or early 2021.

The European Commission is due to unveil a revised proposal for the bloc’s long-term budget, known as the MFF, as well as a coronavirus recovery fund. Although European leaders have agreed to the general principle that the commission should be able to raise additional funds by borrowing on the capital markets, there remain significant differences over whether assistance should come mostly in the form of loans or grants.

A joint proposal unveiled by France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel last Monday, however, has given hope that an agreement can be reached when leaders next meet to sign off on any deal.

SpaceX launches its Crew Dragon spacecraft (crew pictured), marking the first human spaceflight to the International Space Station from US soil since 2011. If successful, the mission will pave the way for future exploration including space tourism, flights to Mars, and the next lunar landing. The historic mission has been hailed as the start of a “new era of human space flight”.

Thursday

Scotland begins easing lockdown restrictions as part of the nation’s four-step plan to restart society and the economy. Despite the UK Government’s original hope of a UK-wide lockdown approach, England and Northern Ireland have already relaxed some measures, and Scotland’s easing coincides with the UK’s rolling 21-day review which may have an impact on whether Wales will follow suit.

The review comes alongside the weekly figures on deaths in England and Wales and Covid-19 infection rates, numbers the Government will be watching as it decides whether to go ahead with the move to Step Two of its recovery plan for England next week.

The Government’s new Immigration Bill has attracted a sizeable chunk of critics concerned by its potential impact on unskilled and seasonal immigrants, and they may get some ammunition as the Home Office publishes figures Covid-19’s impact on immigration.

Keen to avoid a shortfall of such workers as Britain enters its summer harvest season, Whitehall attempted to spare its own blushes by issuing a rallying call for Brits to sign up to a fruit picking “Land Army” (though technology unfortunately opted not to play ball).

Friday

Yet more from the ONS, which publishes analysis on death registrations in England and Wales between January and May which do not mention Covid-19. The data will be compared to the previous five-year average and will include summaries for why there appear to be more non-coronavirus-related deaths than usual at this point in the year, which some are putting down to people actively avoiding hospital for genuine complaints as a result of the pandemic.

Around 55,000 more people have died in the UK than would be expected, a higher excess death toll than anywhere else in Europe.

Jeremy Bamber is expected to appear before the High Court in the latest stage of his judicial review proceedings, challenging the safety of his conviction for murdering five members of his own family.

Bamber’s case centres on the alleged failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to disclose several documents to his defence team as he was put on trial for the 1985 killings at White House Farm, Essex. Bamber has brought his case before the Court of Appeal on several occasions and lost a 2008 bid to have his whole-life sentence overturned.

Saturday

Plans to ease some lockdown measures in England from 1 June will be announced by today at the latest – the Government promised at least 48 hours’ notice before any changes are implemented.

In addition to seeing some pupils return to class, the Government also hopes to re-open some non-essential retail shops and allow sporting and cultural events to return behind closed doors, measures largely lost in the furore over schools.

Sunday

Restrictive measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus continue to ease around the world. South Africa, Japan and Thailand are among countries scheduled to loosen lockdown measures, though nationwide or regional extensions are possible if cases increase.

In India, the end of the “Lockdown 4” follows the arrival of deadly Super Cyclone Amphan, diminishing hope of a swift economic recovery. In the US, “Stay at Home” orders are scheduled to come to an end in seven states as pressure mounts to end the restrictions on freedom caused by the lockdowns.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP and PA Wire

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