News diary 29 March-4 April: George Floyd trial begins and UK lockdown restrictions relax

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

Monday

Just days after the UK marked the anniversary of the first national lockdown, the official stay at home order is lifted and limited outdoor social gatherings are permitted to resume in the first step of Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit roadmap for England. The return of the rule of six and lifting of restrictions on organised sports represent welcome markers of normal life resuming, though Conservative backbenchers continue to insist that restrictions should be eased more quickly. Today’s measures come alongside new regulations that explicitly permit organised protests but bar anyone from travelling from within England to destinations outside of the UK on pain of a £5,000 fine.

Former police officer Derek Chauvin (pictured) goes on trial in Minneapolis, charged over the death of George Floyd. Video footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes caught international attention last summer, sparking protests against police brutality and racial discrimination. Chauvin, who is charged with second and third degree murder, faces up to 15 years in prison. The landmark trial is expected to last a month, with proceedings livestreamed and enhanced security around the courthouse in anticipation of possible unrest.

Tuesday

The main business of the Brussels V conference on Syria takes place with today’s ministerial segment after an opening day of discussions involving civil society and refugee-hosting nations. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu prepared for the meeting with a round of diplomatic one-to-ones at last week’s NATO meeting after vowing to defend Syria’s territorial integrity at separate talks with Russia and Qatar. While the Brussels IV conference praised Turkey for hosting the largest refugee population in the world, Ankara announced in February that it could “no longer hold” them, and discussions will focus on a possible extension to the €6 billion fund the EU pledged for Turkey in 2016.

Spain’s ban on travellers from the UK expires, three months after air and sea routes were closed to non-citizens and residents due to the Kent Covid-19 variant. While restrictions on travel from Brazil and South Africa were extended into April, Spanish authorities said the UK’s ban could lift on schedule due to the successful vaccination programme. Though international travel from the UK is still illegal until at least 17 May, the resumption of flights will give some hope to those still planning for a summer holiday.

Wednesday

The UK hosts a high-level summit on climate in conjunction with the International Energy Agency, one of a series of stops on the road to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) later this year. Co-chaired by COP26 President Alok Sharma, the event is set to feature discussions on emissions reduction and clean energy and will feed into an IEA roadmap to net zero report which is due for release in May. John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, the US and Chinese climate envoys, are among participants.

Wednesday marks an EU deadline for the EU-UK Joint Committee under the Withdrawal Agreement to find a solution to issues around the Northern Ireland protocol, after the EU accused the UK of breaching the deal. In a letter of formal notice issued on 15 March, the EU said it could provide notice to initiate the Withdrawal Agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism if no solution is agreed by today. Brexit Minister Lord Frost raised eyebrows on Thursday when he told the Lords it was “difficult to see how the protocol can be genuinely durable” without the consent of all of Northern Ireland.

Thursday

In more welcome news for the people of Northern Ireland, six people from two households can meet outdoors, as the Northern Ireland Executive relaxes the country’s lockdown restrictions. With golf and other sporting activities resuming, Health Minister Robin Swann said the vaccination programme offered the hope of “better times ahead” with “more freedoms and more normality”. Meanwhile, the ONS publishes its first estimates on the prevalence of so-called “long COVID” in the UK, following reports last week that up to 70 per cent of patients who had been hospitalised with Covid-19 in the UK were still suffering symptoms five months on.

Today marks the deadline for President Joe Biden to notify Congress of his intention to sign a free trade agreement with the UK before the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) expires on 1 July. Though the deadline is likely to be missed, removing the possibility of expedited passage of a trade deal through Congress, discussions between US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss are set to resume at the G7 ministerial meeting later this month. With the passing of the TPA deadline, trade priorities are expected to shift to China, the Airbus subsidies dispute, and digital taxation.

Friday

Scots are next up for increased freedoms, as Scotland’s “Stay at Home” measures are lifted, to be replaced with “Stay Local” guidance as the country eases lockdown restrictions. After First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that Covid-19 deaths in Scotland had fallen by 50 per cent in two weeks, it’s likely the new temporary guidance will be in place for just a few weeks as originally intended, after which Scots will be allowed to travel outside their local authority area.

Saturday

Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in Iran as her fight to return to the UK continues. The British-Iranian was sentenced to five years in prison in September of 2016 after being found guilty of conspiring to topple the Iranian government. Her incarceration has resulted in no small amount of diplomatic sabre rattling between London and Tehran, with Boris Johnson using a recent phone call with Hassan Rouhani to press for her immediate release.  Those pleas have seemingly fallen on deaf ears, as Iran brought fresh charges of propaganda against the regime against Zaghari-Ratcliffe earlier this month.

Sunday

Keir Starmer reaches the end of his first year as Labour leader with a pivotal period as the party enters campaign mode for May’s local elections. A strong performance at council level and in national votes in Wales and Scotland would help deflect accusations that Starmer’s leadership has thus far lacked identity and direction. A crucial few weeks ahead then, particularly with some already prepared to see Starmer consigned to the dustbin of history.

One of the fixtures of the British sporting calendar returns after is cancellation in 2020, as the crews of Oxford and Cambridge compete in a behind-closed-doors edition of the annual boat race. This year’s event breaks new ground as the course moves from its traditional home on the River Thames to the Great Ouse at Ely for the first time in almost 80 years. Cambridge are the defending champions in both the women’s and men’s races, which get underway at 3:50pm and 4:50pm respectively.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Reuters/Jane Rosenberg

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