Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 17 February 2023

The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am

1. Sunak in Belfast to push for deal

The prime minister is in Belfast amid speculation a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol could be reached within days. Rishi Sunak will meet local party leaders this morning before heading on to Germany to meet EU leaders. Meanwhile, his Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, will be in Brussels to meet the European Commission. The main stumbling block could be the position of the Democratic Unionist Party, said The Times. The party has reservations about the plan because there would still be a role for the European Court of Justice.

The issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol explained

2. Zelenskyy rules out land deal

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ruled out giving up any of Ukraine’s territory in a potential peace deal with Moscow. Speaking to the BBC as the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion begins, the president said that surrendering land would mean Russia could “keep coming back”, while Western weapons would bring peace closer. Russia has intensified ground attacks across southern and eastern Ukraine and a major new Russian offensive appears to be taking shape.

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How the Ukraine war began and how it could end

3. Tory PR firm linked to Covid inquiry

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said there is a conflict of interest after the PR firm behind the government’s pandemic response was linked to the Covid inquiry. The firm, 23red, came up with pivotal government messaging, such the “stay at home” slogan. It has now been subcontracted by M&C Saatchi to run part of the Covid inquiry’s listening exercise. The campaigners said their concerns about this were dismissed and they felt “unbelievably let down”. A spokesperson said the “conflict of interest” is “obvious”.

The Covid-19 public inquiry: what you need to know

4. Backlash grows against Bulley police

The home secretary has asked Lancashire Police for an explanation after they revealed personal information about missing mother Nicola Bulley. The force was criticised for making public that Bulley had struggles with alcohol and the menopause. Lancashire Constabulary is “facing a growing backlash over its handling of the case”, said The Telegraph, and has referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct over contact it had with Bulley over a concern for welfare just over two weeks before she vanished on 27 January.

Nicola Bulley: the latest theories on her disappearance

5. Biden plays down China speculation

Joe Biden said that Washington has no evidence that the three objects shot down in North American air space are tied to China’s spy balloon program. “The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research,” said the US president. Three unidentified objects were taken down by the US over the weekend and a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was taken down off the US coast on February 4.

The UFO fever gripping Washington

6. Scottish independence ‘set back five years’

Nicola Sturgeon’s shock resignation could delay efforts to stage a fresh independence referendum by at least five years, senior SNP figures fear. The party’s national executive committee has confirmed that Sturgeon’s plan to use the next election as a single-issue “de facto referendum” on independence has been scrapped. Those wanting to succeed Sturgeon have until 24 February to submit their nomination, with the vote to run between 13 March and 27 March. Deputy First Minister John Swinney has ruled himself out of the race.

If at first you don’t secede: the rise and fall of Nicola Sturgeon

7. Truss challenges PM on China

Liz Truss will challenge Rishi Sunak to come to the defence of Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression. In her first public speech since she left Downing Street, the former PM will warn that “the free world is in danger” and demand a tougher policy on China. While in office, she had been preparing to describe Beijing as a “threat” in a relaunch of the UK’s foreign strategy, but Sunak has indicated that he will not adopt that vocabulary.

Does Rishi Sunak have a China problem?

8. Museum’s deal with gas giant criticised

The Science Museum signed a gagging clause with a Norwegian oil and gas company, agreeing not to say anything that could damage the firm’s reputation, reported The Guardian. The sponsorship deal, for the Wonderlab exhibition, stated that the museum and its trustees must take reasonable care to “not at any time” during the exhibition period “make any statement or issue any publicity or otherwise be involved in any conduct or matter that may reasonably be foreseen as discrediting or damaging the goodwill or reputation of the sponsor”. In 2021, the institution signed a similar contract with Shell.

9. Child allowance could be raised

Universal credit childcare allowance could be increased under plans to get more parents into work, the i newspaper reported. As ministers grapple with multiple options, one proposal considered ahead of next month’s Budget includes raising the childcare payments to help struggling families better afford the costs. The government wants to get more people into employment to reduce high rates of economic inactivity, and encourage those on in-work benefits to take on more hours.

How to get help with childcare costs

10. BBC accused of ‘arrogance’

The director-general of the BBC has come under fire after he said it is “truly amazing” that the corporation is “pulling off” forcing households to pay the licence fee. Speaking to staff at a meeting on Tuesday, Tim Davie said “it’s truly amazing what we’re pulling off by the way,” he said. “That most households are pretty happy paying a licence being a forced payment. It’s amazing what we’re pulling off.” Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative party leader, said the remarks showed the “arrogance” of the BBC.

BBC licence fee: the pros and cons

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