‘The UK government’s union problems are mounting on all fronts’

Your digest of analysis and commentary from the British and international press

Belfast riots
Fireworks explode at police vehicles in Belfast on 8 April
(Image credit: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images)

1. The future of the Union is on shaky ground as Covid-19 has made people more aware of the effects of devolution

Katy Balls on iNews

on staving off separatism

The unrest in Belfast “is a problem that’s not going away”, says Katy Balls in the i newspaper. “Instead, the UK Government’s Union problems are mounting on all fronts.” Just as there is no single cause behind the violence in Northern Ireland, there is “no single solution” and “unease is also building on other parts of the Union strategy”. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon “appears to be making a comeback”, which could lead to another push for independence, says Balls. “As the Union comes under even more pressure in the coming weeks and months, the UK Government will have no choice but to find a way to fight back against separatism. [Boris] Johnson is going to have a job on his hands simply keeping the Union together.”

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2. Britain and the EU must be good neighbours

William Hague in The Times

on moving on

In his first column for The Times, William Hague writes that Britain and the EU need to “start offering concessions” after the trust between them broke down over Brexit. “The honest truth is that relations between London and Brussels are very poor,” he says. “There is a choice to be made here, on both sides of the Channel.” The former Tory leader asks if the two sides are going to “muddle along”, while “hoping no further global crisis hits us while we are busy mistrusting each other”, or acknowledge that we are “each other’s most important neighbours and it is entirely possible to create a better atmosphere for millions of people who will want to work, travel, invest and study abroad?”

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3. Has nothing been learned from George Floyd’s death?

The Washington Post

on history repeating itself

The case of George Floyd “ostensibly prompted a national reckoning on racial inequities in policing”, says The Washington Post. But a “shocking video” of black army officer Caron Nazario being mistreated by police and the death of Daunte Wright in a suburb of Minneapolis has coincided with the trial of the officer charged with Floyd’s murder. “Has nothing been learned from that tragedy? Do police think they can act with impunity? Why are these things still happening?” the newspaper asks. In the case of Wright, where the police officer is said to have used her gun instead of a Taser by accident, The Washington Post asks if the use of force at all was a prudent decision. “Part of the way police have traditionally been trained is to think they have to win at any cost, but that cost is far too high.”

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4. It’s creepy that AI is teaching workers to be more human

Sarah O’Connor in the Financial Times

on the need for empathy

“Empathy is one of those precious human qualities that we don’t think artificial intelligence will ever supplant,” says Sarah O’Connor in the Financial Times. “But in the call centre industry, a more complicated story is beginning to play out.” Some companies are using AI to “coach” staff in real time, sending an “empathy cue” if the customer’s words, tone or pitch suggest they are irritated or upset. “If the problem is that emotionally exhausted workers are giving a bad experience to customers, then a simpler solution would be to prevent them from getting so burnt out in the first place,” she says. In the pursuit of efficiency, call centres “have ground humanity out of their workers – the very quality they now want to get back”, says O’Connor. “But before reaching for AI, there is a low-tech alternative. If you want people to act like humans, try treating them that way.”

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5. Rebranding ‘wickets’ for The Hundred? Thanks, but I’m out...

Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph

on cricketing nonsense

The Daily Telegraph’s Simon Heffer thinks the decision by the England and Wales Cricket Board to replace the term “wickets” with “outs” for the Hundred competition is “ridiculous”. This and “other such nonsense” will help ensure cricket lovers are “turned off the Hundred for good, and start to feel less attracted to cricket generally”, he warns. On one level, it may appear to be “only a minor matter of terminology, but it is in fact another severance of this new type of game from everything else”, says Heffer. “Before too long, the Hundred will become just another money-making activity that happens at cricket grounds to keep the infrastructure functioning, such as selling beer or hospitality boxes, or using cricket grounds to host rock concerts or car boot sales.”

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