New French PM To Unveil Reshuffled Cabinet

France’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex looks on at the police station of La Courneuve, a northern Paris suburb, on July 5, 2020, during one of his first official visits following his appointment as Premier on July 3. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

 

France’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex was on Monday expected to unveil a reshuffled government tasked with helping the economy brave its worst crisis since World War II and injecting fresh momentum into the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.

Castex, a senior bureaucrat and provincial mayor almost completely unknown to the French before his appointment Friday, is seeking to move quickly and decisively to convince sceptics he is the right choice for the job.

The 55-year old was appointed by Macron in place of Edouard Philippe as the president seeks a fresh start for the final two years of his mandate ahead of 2022 presidential elections.

France’s economy has been battered into a historic recession by the coronavirus crisis while Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party is reeling from its drubbing in local elections late last month.

Macron wrote on Twitter Sunday that a “new path” was needed, listing the new government’s priorities as “reviving the economy, continuing an overhaul of our social protection and the environment, re-establishing a fair republican order and defending European sovereignty”.

The failure of LREM — founded in the run-up to Macron’s presidential bid in 2017 — in local elections again showed up its lack of a grassroots base.

Analysts have said that by appointing a low-profile figure in place of Philippe — whose popularity was outstripping Macron’s — the president wants to tighten his grip on the reins of government ahead of 2022.

– ‘New talent’ –

French parliament speaker Richard Ferrand said he expected the new government to be announced on Monday morning after an intense weekend of exchanges between Castex and Macron.

An aide to Macron, who asked not to be named, said there would be “new talent” and “people who have come from different horizons”.

However few details have leaked over what changes there will be to the government, which under the centrist Macron has always been a delicate balancing act between left and right.

Castex, who drew up the plan for France to come out of its coronavirus lockdown, was himself a member of the right-wing The Republicans (LR) but confirmed he has now handed in his party card.

One job on the line is that of interior minister Christophe Castaner, criticised both by Black Lives Matter protesters over alleged racism in the police force but also by officers for a perceived lack of support.

But it is far from clear if those holding the key ministries of state — ex-rightwinger Bruno Le Maire at economy and former Socialists Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly at foreign affairs and defence — will be moved on.

– ‘Not an option’ –

Much attention is on the future of the environment ministry, a troubled domain for Macron after the sensational resignation from the post of popular campaigner Nicolas Hulot in 2018 on the grounds that it was impossible to get anything done.

Castex, not so far known for his green credentials, has said “ecology is not an option but an obligation”, following a strong performance by the Greens in municipal polls.

But Yannick Jadot, an MEP and key figure in the EELV green party, retorted that there was “perfect continuity between Jean Castex and Edouard Philippe”, saying neither “had ever shown any kind of interest in the climate or biodiversity”.

Philippe meanwhile has returned to the relative peace of his old job as mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre. Opinion divided over whether he will fade into the background or could one day pose a challenge to Macron.

AFP

Israel’s Netanyahu Urges Caution As COVID-19 Cases Spike

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israelis to continue wearing masks and respect social distancing measures, as confirmed novel coronavirus cases spiked following the easing of lockdown measures.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting on the virus, he said the past 24 hours had seen nearly 1,000 new infections confirmed.

Israel had imposed tight lockdown restrictions following its first registered COVID-19 case in February, then began cautiously easing them in mid-April.

Netanyahu said that for the moment, places of worship, bars, event halls and clubs would stay open, but with gatherings limited to 50 people — or 20 in private homes.

“We don’t want to go back to a policy of general lockdown,” he said.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein also urged strict adherence to personal hygiene protocols and said the country was “at war for the benefit of citizens”.

Israel, with its nine million inhabitants, has registered some 26,452 infections including 324 deaths.

The Israeli parliament on Wednesday passed a law enabling the government to use its domestic security agency to track coronavirus infections as cases surged.

AFP

UK Offers Hong Kongers Citizenship In Response To China

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during his visit to Dudley College of Technology in Dudley, central England on June 30, 2020. – Johnson said Britain needed the type of massive economic response that US president Franklin D. Paul ELLIS / POOL / AFP.

 

Britain on Wednesday extended Hong Kong residents a broader path to citizenship in response to China’s sweeping new security law for the former UK territory.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement represents the most direct international response to legislation that has been roundly condemned by Western allies.

It comes during a London review of its entire range of relations with Beijing, including its decision to allow China’s Huawei help build Britain new 5G data network.

“We stand for rules and obligations,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament just hours after China made its first arrest in Hong Kong under the new legislation.

“And we think that is the scientific basis for our international relations and the enactment, and deposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

Johnson said London had warned Beijing that it would introduce a new route for those with British National Overseas status to enter the UK.

“And that is precisely what we will do now,” he told lawmakers.

About 300,000 Hong Kongers have BNO passports and another 2.6 million are eligible to apply.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain’s offer also extended to dependents of those with BNO status but refused to be drawn about how many would apply.

– ‘Deeply disturbing’ –

Hong Kong was under UK jurisdiction until Britain handed it to China in 1997 with a guarantee that Beijing would preserve the city’s judicial and legislative autonomy for 50 years.

But critics say the new law — passed by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament this week without its text being released to the public — tests the limits of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that formally entered international law in 1984.

Britain’s last Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, called details of the legislation unveiled overnight were “even worse than I expected”.

“It is Orwellian stuff,” Patten told the BBC.

“It does go wider and further than anybody had feared.”

Britain’s response to China’s legislation offers a much smoother pathway to UK citizenship for millions of Hong Kongers.

Raab said Hong Kongers with BNO status and their dependents would first have the right to work or study in Britain for five years.

They would then have the right to apply for settled status then possible citizenship.

He said there would be “no quotas” and described the entire system as “bespoke”.

“This is a grave and deeply disturbing step,” he said of the Chinese law.

“China through this national security legislation is not living up to its promises to the people of Hong Kong. We will live up to our promises to them,” he told lawmakers.

– Policy review –

Britain had opened itself up to closer relations with China as it sought out trading partners after ending its decades-long membership in the European Union this year.

Johnson’s government also irritated the US administration in January by allowing the private Chinese telecoms group Huawei to unroll Britain’s speedy new data network.

But Britain is now studying ways it can cut Huawei out of its system entirely and build up an alliance of European and Asian providers that reduces China’s dominance in the field.

British condemnation of the Chinese law has spanned the political divide and seen London’s Asia-focused HSBC group come under political assault for openly backing it last month.

Raab did not mention the bank by name but noted: “The rights and the freedoms and our responsibilities in this country to the people of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed on the altar of bankers’ bonuses”.

HSBC offered support for the law after public pressure from a pro-Beijing figure in Hong Kong who pointed to the bank’s reliance on business in China.

AFP

UK PM Johnson Warns Israel Against Annexation Plan

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on June 24, 2020, to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)a at the House of Commons – ˜Ben STANSALL / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Israel Wednesday against going ahead with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, calling them illegal and against the Jewish state’s own interests.

“I am a passionate defender of Israel,” he wrote in an article published in Hebrew on the front page of Israel’s top-selling daily, Yediot Aharonot.

“So it is with sadness that I have followed the proposals to annex Palestinian territory,” he added.

“I am fearful that these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel’s borders and will be contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests.”

Israel’s coalition government has agreed July 1 as the date from which it can begin implementing US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal, which paves the way for annexations of Jewish West Bank settlements and potentially the Jordan Valley.

“Annexation would represent a violation of international law,” Johnson wrote, adding that it would also jeopardise “the progress that Israel has made in improving relationships with the Arab and Muslim world.

“I still believe the only way to achieve true, lasting security for Israel, the homeland for the Jewish people, is through a solution that allows justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Johnson wrote. “I refuse to believe that this is impossible.”

Last month, in a rare op-ed in an Israeli newspaper, the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, warned that annexation of parts of the West Bank would jeopardise any warming of Arab-Israeli ties.

Describing it as the “illegal seizure of Palestinian land”, Otaiba said “plans for annexation and talk of normalisation are a contradiction”.

AFP

UK PM Johnson Pledges ‘Infrastructure Revolution’ For COVID-19 Crisis

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during his visit to Dudley College of Technology in Dudley, central England on June 30, 2020. – Johnson said Britain needed the type of massive economic response that US president Franklin D. Roosevelt mobilised to deal with the Great Depression. He has earmarked £1 billion ($1.2 billion) for school repairs and a further £4 billion for “shovel-ready” projects that cover everything for road maintenance to public transport. Paul ELLIS / POOL / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged on Tuesday to deliver an “infrastructure revolution” to help Britain build its way out of the economic devastation of the coronavirus outbreak.

But his optimistic message, thin on detail and reminiscent of last year’s election pledges, was overshadowed by the first local lockdown since an easing of measures was announced, because of a spike in cases in the city of Leicester.

Shops which only reopened two weeks ago after being shut for more than three months were forced to close again, and travel was restricted to the city in the English East Midlands.

Johnson, however, tried to harness the can-do spirit that US president Franklin D. Roosevelt adopted when he introduced a “New Deal” for tackling the Great Depression 90 years ago.

“This is a programme for jobs, jobs, jobs because it’s by building, building, building… that we will get the jobs this nation needs,” he said after touring a construction site in Dudley, 40 miles (64 kilometres) away in the West Midlands.

“It sounds like a New Deal, and all I can say is, if that is so then that is how it is meant to sound and to be because that is what the times demand.”

He promised £1 billion ($1.2 billion) for school repairs and a further £4 billion for “shovel-ready” projects from road maintenance to public transport in what he said was a new “infrastructure revolution” that will also build new homes.

– ‘Neglected and unloved’ –

Johnson’s message was thin on detail, particularly on jobs, and in part repackaged broad-brush promises made by his Conservative party before December’s general election.

He pledged again to spread the wealth more fairly from London to economically struggling regions that traditionally supported the opposition Labour party.

“Too many parts of this country have felt left behind, neglected, unloved,” he said.

That pledge helped Johnson secure a record 80-seat parliamentary majority that enabled him in January to take Britain out of the European Union after repeated delays.

But Britain is now dealing with Europe’s deadliest virus outbreak and the worst economic contraction among the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialised states.

Johnson’s once soaring approval ratings slipped into negative territory in a YouGov poll this month.

And opposition leaders said the £5 billion announced on Tuesday was simply bringing forward some of the money promised in a spending plan his government had already unveiled for the coming five years.

“The government’s refusal to genuinely emulate Roosevelt’s boldness is a missed opportunity,” the Labour-supporting New Statesman magazine wrote.

The Financial Times said Roosevelt’s New Deal “spawned mega-projects such as the Hoover Dam” but Johnson’s list of priorities included repairing a bridge near Birmingham.

– Local lockdown –

Johnson’s rambunctious style and oratory flourishes have appealed to Britons tired of ceaseless battles over Brexit that dragged on for nearly four years.

The 56-year-old former journalist remains popular in his party and has commanding control of Britain’s political agenda.

But he has faced criticism for Britain having the world’s third-highest virus death toll in the outbreak — now officially at 43,575 — and one of Europe’s longest lockdowns.

Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Johnson on Monday of falling “asleep at the wheel” — and the Leicester lockdown will be a further test of his strategy to fight the disease.

It will mean the city’s pubs and restaurants will not fully reopen along with those across the rest on England from this weekend.

Johnson had expected the reopening, along with swathes of the tourism and cultural sectors, to help kick-start the country’s stalled economy.

Revised official data released on Tuesday indicated the country has suffered its biggest quarterly contraction for more than 40 years, as the pandemic slashed activity.

Gross domestic product shrank 2.2 percent in the first quarter compared to the three previous months, with second quarter data likely to be even worse.

Recent data showed UK economic activity crashed by a record 20.4 percent in April, and there are widespread predictions of a deep, long-lasting recession.

AFP

Netanyahu Warns Assad To Keep Out Iran

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday he would be “risking the future” of his regime if he allowed Iran to be entrenched militarily in his country.

“We will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria,” he told reporters alongside visiting US pointman on Iran policy, Brian Hook.

The two men called for an extension of an arms embargo on Iran, archfoe of both their countries, that expires in October.

“I say to the ayatollahs in Tehran: ‘Israel will continue to take the actions necessary to prevent you from creating another terror and military front against Israel'” in neighbouring Syria, the premier said.

“And I say to Bashar al-Assad: ‘You’re risking the future of your country and your regime,” Netanyahu said.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of its civil war in 2011, targeting government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

It rarely confirms details of operations in Syria, but says Iran’s presence in support of Assad is a threat to the Jewish state and that it will keep up such attacks.

“We are absolutely resolved to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in our immediate vicinity,” said Netanyahu.

Hook focused on the arms embargo, put in place as part of a multilateral nuclear accord signed by Tehran, Washington and other major powers in 2015.

A lifting of that embargo would allow Iran “to freely import fighter jets, attack helicopters, warships, submarines, large-calibre artillery systems and missiles of certain ranges”, the US envoy said.

“Iran will then be in a position to export these weapons and their technologies to their proxies such as Hezbollah, (Palestinian groups) Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Shiite militia groups in Iraq and Shiite militant networks in Bahrain and to the Huthis in Yemen,” Hook said.

“The last thing that this region needs is more Iranian weapons.”

The US unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord in 2018.

AFP

French Ex-PM Fillon Given Five Year Sentence In Fraud Trial

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 27, 2020, former French Prime minister Francois Fillon returns to the courtroom at the Paris’ courthouse, for the hearing of the trial over claims they embezzled over one million euros in an alleged fake-jobs fraud. – A French court is scheduled to give its verdict on June 29, 2020, in the trial of former premier Francois Fillon on charges of setting up a fake job for his wife, although the ruling could be delayed by a controversy over alleged pressure on prosecutors. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP.

 

A Paris court on Monday sentenced former French prime minister Francois Fillon to five years in prison, with three suspended, after finding him guilty of orchestrating a fake job for his wife, a scandal that cost him his shot at the presidency in 2017.

Fillon’s wife Penelope was handed a suspended three-year sentence for participating in a scheme that saw her paid over a million euros in public funds over a 15-year period.

Both were ordered to pay fines of 375,000 euros ($423,000) and also reimburse one million euros to the National Assembly, where Penelope supposedly worked as Fillon’s parliamentary assistant from 1998 to 2013.

With three years of the five years suspended, Fillon faces two years behind bars in jail. But the couple immediately appealed the ruling, meaning neither will be detained for now pending the appeal.

The couple made no statements as they left the courthouse.

The case was widely seen as a test of whether French politicians would be held to account after decades of getting off lightly on charges of nepotism or financial misconduct.

– Test for French elite –

The allegations that Fillon had pilfered the public coffers for years pummelled his image as an upright fiscal hawk promising to right the country’s finances — and loomed large in the “yellow vest” anti-government protests that rocked the country in 2018-2019.

A newspaper report on the fake job surfaced early in January 2017, just after Fillon clinched the nomination from his rightwing Republicans party as candidate for a presidential race he was widely tipped to win.

It later emerged that Fillon had also used public money to pay two of his children a combined 117,000 euros for alleged sham work while he was a senator, before becoming premier in the government of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

He was also accused of getting the millionaire owner of a literary magazine to pay his wife 135,000 euros for “consulting work” that was largely fake.

A third defendant, Marc Joulaud — who stood in for Fillon in parliament when he was a cabinet minister, and who also hired Penelope Fillon as an assistant — was also found guilty.

He was also handed a three year suspended sentence.

– ‘Penelopegate’ –

Fillon’s lawyers had attempted to have the case reopened after the former head of the Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF), Eliane Houlette, told lawmakers this month that she had met with “pressure” to bring charges quickly against Fillon.

But the court rejected the request Monday, even though President Emmanuel Macron — whose path to the presidency was cleared by Fillon’s downfall — requested an investigation over the prosecutor’s claims.

“Penelopegate”, as the scandal became known, torpedoed the career of one of France’s right-wing stars, who was the youngest member of parliament when first elected at just 27 years old.

Fillon met his Welsh-born wife while she was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and the couple soon married and moved to an imposing country estate near Le Mans where they raised their five children.

Penelope Fillon told the court she spent a lot of time sorting her husband’s mail, attending public events near their rural manor and gathering information for his speeches.

But investigators seized on a 2016 newspaper interview in which she said: “Until now, I have never got involved in my husband’s political life.”

Fillon insists he was set up for “political assassination” by his rivals and was also the victim of a biased judiciary.

AFP

UK PM Johnson Vows ‘Rooseveltian’ Response To COVID-19 Crisis

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday the coronavirus crisis needed the type of massive economic response US president Franklin D. Roosevelt mobilised to deal with the Great Depression.

Johnson told The Times newspaper’s new radio station that Britain was heading for “bumpy times” as it struggles through its biggest economic contraction on record.

He intends to unveil a spending programme in a speech Tuesday his office has simply dubbed “build, build, build”.

“I think this is the moment for a Rooseveltian approach to the UK, really really moving forward,” said Johnson.

“I really think the investment will pay off.”

Roosevelt launched the New Deal programme in the 1930s that created a comprehensive social care system whose legacy lives on to this day.

The first part of Johnson’s initiative earmarks £1 billion ($1.2 billion, 1.1 billion euros) for school repairs.

“The country has gone through a profound shock. But in those moments you have the opportunity to change and to do things better,” Johnson said.

“We really want to build back better, to do things differently, to invest in infrastructure, transport, broadband — you name it.”

READ ALSO: EU Trade Chief Hogan Drops Out Of WTO Race

Johnson’s interview with Times Radio comes a week before the full reopening of restaurants, pubs and other parts of the hospitality, tourism and cultural sectors in England for the first time since March 20.

A full lockdown was imposed three days later, and has been one of the longest in Europe.

As restrictions ease nationwide, the UK’s first local lockdown may soon be introduced in the central city of Leicester to deal with a reported spike in virus cases.

“I think the crucial thing is that we are ready to crack down on local flare-ups,” Johnson said.

“That’s why you’re seeing the steps that are being taken in Leicester.”

Johnson admitted that his own near-death experience with COVID-19 — he was treated at an intensive care unit in early April — made him reassess his hands-off approach to Britons’ general fitness.

Some data suggest that people who are overweight have a higher mortality rate from the new virus.

Johnson has admitted he is on a diet and said Monday he “lost some weight” while recovering.

“I have taken a very libertarian stance (on fitness). But when you compare us to other countries, we are significantly fatter,” he said.

AFP

UK Govt Under Pressure To Lift Cricket COVID-19 Ban

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on June 24, 2020, to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)a at the House of Commons – ˜ (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was told “England is not England without cricket” by one of his own Conservative MPs on Thursday as the British government came under renewed pressure to lift a ban on recreational cricket during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a debate in Parliament, Peter Bone MP urged Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, to “persuade the chief umpire (Johnson) to stroll across from Number 10 next week” and announce the amateur game can resume.

International cricket is set to get underway for the first time since lockdown when England face the West Indies in a three-Test series starting at Southampton on July 8.

But the amateur game remains mothballed, with professional county cricket delayed until at least August 1.

Earlier this week, while announcing a lifting of lockdown restrictions on pubs and restaurants, Johnson said club cricket could not resume because the ball is a “natural vector of disease”.

But with social tennis and golf currently allowed, his comments were labelled “utter nonsense” by former England captain Michael Vaughan.

Many British politicians have been cricket lovers.

Clement Attlee, Labour’s Prime Minister in the years immediately after the Second World War had an agency ticker machine installed at 10 Downing Street so he could receive the county scores.

Alec Douglas-Home, briefly Prime Minister in the 1960s, played 10 first-class matches in the 1920s.

READ ALSO: UN Urges ‘Moratorium’ On Facial Recognition Tech Use In Protests

Meanwhile, another Conservative Prime Minister and cricket enthusiast, John Major, during a speech to rally support for his position of keeping Britain in the European Union in 1993, said that “fifty years from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county (cricket) grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs (and) dog lovers”.

Bone, the MP for Wellingborough, central England, appeared to tap into that spirit on Thursday when he recalled visiting his local cricket club last weekend.

He said he had “heard the ripple of applause from the boundary and the occasional shouts of “owzat?'” before realising he was imagining it.

Bone added: “Up and down the country thousands and thousands of men and women and boys and girls are desperate to play competitive cricket.

“England is not England without cricket.

“Leader, would you persuade the chief umpire to stroll across from Number 10 next week and make a statement in this House that play can resume?”

Somerset supporter Rees-Mogg replied that few MPs missed cricket as much as he did.

“All my tickets to go to watch various Test matches across the course of the year, my visits to Taunton (Somerset’s headquarters), have all had to be cancelled,” he said.

“And worst still, there was a chance that Somerset might win the County Championship for the first time in its history.”

Rees-Mogg agreed the absence of cricket was a “real loss” but added “we have to be as safe as we possibly can be”.

AFP

UK PM Blasted For £900,000 Plane Paint Job

(FILES) In this handout file photo taken and released on April 29, 2020 by 10 Downing Street, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen recording a video message for Captain Tom Moore’s 100th birthday, inside 10 Downing Street in central London.  Pippa FOWLES / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced scorn and ridicule Wednesday after the government revealed it will spend nearly a million pounds repainting his official plane the colours of the Union Jack.

Leading political opponents accused Johnson of wasting taxpayers’ money on a vanity project while millions struggle through the coronavirus pandemic.

Downing Street said the RAF Voyager transport plane that British prime ministers share with members of the royal family was currently getting a makeover near Cambridge, in eastern England.

“We’re expecting the cost to be around £900,000 ($1.1 million, 1.0 million euros),” Johnson’s spokesman said.

“That incorporates the cost of creating a design that will promote the UK around the world without compromising the plane’s vital military role.”

Johnson is known to have strong views about the looks of government jets.

He complained in 2018 that he had to share the “grey” plane with then prime minister Theresa May while he was still serving as foreign minister.

Johnson’s decision to spend public money on a paint job in the middle of the steepest economic downturn on record drew derision from members of the opposition.

“Rather than reversing the damaging policies that have pushed millions into poverty, the Prime Minister is more interested in finding money to spend on his own vanity project, a luxury VIP plane,” the Scottish National Party’s parliamentary leader Ian Blackford fumed.

“For goodness sake. Please can we have a grown up as a Prime Minister instead of a child,” the main opposition Labour party’s Emma Hardy tweeted.

And Liberal Democrats’ acting leader Ed Davey noted that the dexamethasone steroid that UK scientists showed to be an effective treatment for the most serious novel coronavirus cases only costs a few pounds a patient.

“Boris Johnson could have bought 180,000 doses of that, but instead he’s painting a flag on a plane,” Davey said.

“At every stage, we work to ensure value for money for the UK, and all of the work has been undertaken in the UK, directly benefitting British suppliers,” Johnson’s spokesman said.

AFP

UK PM Johnson Says Will Not Ignore Anger Over Racial Injustice

In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas' Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged the “cold reality” behind angry protests against racial injustice, but warned he would not tolerate violence or the breaking of coronavirus distancing laws.

Demonstrations have broken out across Britain following the death of George Floyd in the United States, most of them peaceful, although clashes in London left 35 police officers hurt.

“We simply cannot ignore the depth of emotion that has been triggered by that spectacle of a black man losing his life at the hands of the police,” Johnson said in a statement late Monday.

“In this country and around the world his dying words — I can’t breathe — have awakened an anger and a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice, a feeling that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination: in education, in employment, in the application of the criminal law.

“And we who lead and who govern simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality.”

He continued: “And so I say yes, you are right, we are all right, to say Black Lives Matter.

READ ALSO: Cyprus Welcomes First Tourist Flights Since March

“And to all those who have chosen to protest peacefully and who have insisted on social distancing, I say, yes of course I hear you, and I understand.”

He said while Britain had made “huge strides… there is so much more to do — in eradicating prejudice, and creating opportunity, and the government I lead is committed to that effort.”

However, he warned the country was “in a time of national trial” as it battled the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 40,000 people in Britain.

– ‘Bygone era’ –

“I will not support those who flout the rules on social distancing,” he said.

“And no, I will not support or indulge those who break the law, or attack the police, or desecrate public monuments.”

London protesters defaced the statue of World War II leader Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, and in Bristol, southwest England, crowds pulled down a statue of a notorious local slave trader.

“We have a democracy in this country. If you want to change the urban landscape, you can stand for election, or vote for someone who will,” Johnson said.

London mayor Sadiq Khan on Tuesday announced a review of the capital’s landmarks, including statues and road names, many of which he said “reflect a bygone era”.

“We must ensure that we celebrate the achievements and diversity of all in our city, and that we commemorate those who have made London what it is — that includes questioning which legacies are being celebrated,” he said.

AFP

Britain To Reopen Places Of Worship On June 15

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 19, 2020 A pedestrian walks along an empty street outside York Minister in the centre of York, northern England, as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues. – The UK government said on June 7, 2020, it will reopen places of worship “for private individual prayer” on June 15 as it continues to progressively ease coronavirus restrictions. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said services and worship groups will still be banned for the time being due to concern that the virus spreads more quickly in enclosed spaces. OLI SCARFF / AFP.

 

The UK government said Sunday it will reopen places of worship “for private individual prayer” on June 15 as it continues to progressively ease coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said services and worship groups will still be banned for the time being due to concern that the virus spreads more quickly in enclosed spaces.

“People of all faiths have shown enormous patience and forbearance, unable to mark Easter, Passover, Ramadan or Vaisakhi with friends and family in the traditional way,” Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said in a statement.

“We are now able to move forwards with a limited but important return to houses of worship.”

Britain’s official COVID-19 death toll of 40,465 is second only to that of the United States.

But cases across Europe have fallen off sharply and Britain is now cautiously proceeding with partial school reopenings and the resumption of basic business activity that ended when the country shut down on March 23.

Johnson’s government also intends to reopen all stores on June 15. Restaurants and pubs will be allowed to seat a limited number of customers in a week.

But Johnson has had to weather intense criticism for his handling of the health crisis.

Critics say Britain had ample time to take the appropriate precautions — such as shutting down retail and closing schools — after seeing the disease spread from China to Italy and other parts of Europe at the start of the year.

READ ALSO: Pope Says Worst Of COVID-19 Is Over, Vatican Clear Of Cases

The government is now coming under attack for starting to lift the restriction too quickly.

The average reinfection rate in some northwestern and southwestern parts of Britain is still perilously close to the 1.0 figure above which the virus begins to spread.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock argued that the government was proceeding with abundant caution because it was wary of the dire economic effects of a second lockdown.

“The worst thing for the economy would be a second spike,” he told Sky News.

Hancock also dismissed reports of a raging policy clash between pro-business government ministers and more health conscious scientific advisers.

“I care deeply about getting the economy going and the best way to get the economy going is to ensure that we get the number of new infections right down,” he said.

AFP