Boris Johnson accused of losing ‘moral backbone’ as plan for Troubles amnesty faces wall of opposition – politics live
Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, told the Today programme this morning that the government’s plans for an effective amnesty, that could end all prosecutions relating to the Northern Ireland Troubles before 1998, was “the least worst solution”. He said:
This isn’t the solution to everyone’s problems; I call it the least worst solution, but it does provide a mechanism whereby investigations can continue, questioning can continue so that families who lost loved ones during the Troubles get to know what happened but without the fear of prosecution being held above the heads of military veterans.
Dannatt also said he expected that the government’s command paper being published later today would set out what proportion of deaths in the Troubles were caused by terrorists and by the military.
Labour has said that plans to introduce a statute of limitations to end all prosecutions related to the Troubles before 1998 – in effect an amnesty, covering terrorists as well as members of the armed forced – are “staggeringly insensitive”.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, is set to announce the plans in parliament this afternoon. As our preview story reports, a government source said:
We want to give Northern Ireland society the best chance of moving forward as one – to do that we must confront the difficult and painful reality that the realistic prospect of prosecutions is vanishingly small and while that prospect remains Northern Ireland will continue to be hamstrung by its past.
Our legacy package will support Northern Ireland to move beyond an adversarial cycle that doesn’t deliver information or reconciliation for victims and survivors nor end the cycle of investigations against our veterans.
The plans are likely to encounter a wall of opposition. All Northern Ireland’s five main political parties are opposed to amnesty, with unions primarily opposed to the principle of terrorists being exempt prosecution and nationalists and republicans primarily opposed to investigations into killings by soldiers being dropped.
Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, also said this morning that his government was opposed. He posted this on Twitter.
Louise Haigh, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said the government was going back on a promise made to victims that crimes would be properly investigated. She said:
This government gave victims their word – they would deliver the proper investigations denied to victims and their families for so long.
To tear up that pledge would be insulting, and to do so without the faintest hint of consultation with those who lost loved ones would be staggeringly insensitive.
The prime minister should look victims’ families in the eye, and explain why he wants to close the book on their cases, and why they have been the last to be told about these proposals?
To back her case, Haigh released to the media a copy of a letter sent to the PM by Julie Hambleton, head of the Birmingham 21 to seek justice for relatives of those killed in the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974. In it Hambleton said:
At what point did your government lose all sight of its moral, ethical and judicial backbone?
According to media reports, the government are preparing legislation to address crimes committed during The Troubles, which would: “allow people who were involved in the conflict to testify about what happened without fear of prosecution, giving closure to families of those who were killed.”
Tell me prime minister, if one of your loved ones was blown up beyond recognition, where you were only able to identify your son or daughter by their fingernails because their face had been burned so severely from the blast and little of their remains were left intact, would you be so quick to agree to such obscene legislation being implemented?
Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the Birmingham bombings, also criticised the government for not having the “basic common decency” to discuss these plans with victims’ families first.
In interviews this morning Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, sought to explain how Transport for London will get passengers to carry on wearing masks next week when it is not longer a legal requirement in England. Masks would be a “condition of carriage”, he said, and special staff would enforce the rule. He said:
We employ a number of enforcement officers, over 400. They will be making sure if anyone’s not wearing a face mask, they will be reminded of the importance of doing so.
But Khan conceded that not having full legal backing for the rule made the situation “not perfect”.
TfL said enforcement officers would run targeted operations, refusing entry to people who are not wearing masks and who are not exempt. It said that if passengers were abusive, they would face prosecution.
Khan also said that he was looking at passing a bylaw to make mask wearing compulsory. A bylaw is a rule set by a local authority. In London, passengers on TfL services are not allowed to drink alcohol under a condition of carriage, backed up by a bylaw, and there is wide compliance with this rule.
The RMT rail union has claimed that staff are at risk of abuse and assault from members of the public angry about Transport for London keeping mask wearing compulsory from next week while the government has stopped it being a legal requirement for England. Commenting on the TfL announcement (see 9.34am), Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said:
Whilst we welcome the approach from the London mayor this morning, which is consistent with the policies currently adopted in Scotland, Wales and on Eurostar, we now have the ludicrous position where a passenger travelling through London will have different rules on the tube and the mainline services.
There will also be a change of policy on trains at the Welsh and Scottish borders, which is a total nonsense and will leave staff right at the sharp end and dangerously exposed when it comes to enforcement.
As a result of this chaotic approach we now have a situation where the London measures are not enforceable by law, which means RMT members will be thrown into a hostile and confrontational situation from next Monday at heightened risk of abuse and assault.
That is wholly down to the confused, inconsistent and botched messaging from the government.
The train operators, bus companies and, most importantly, the government should be following the best practice on face coverings in the name of consistency, common sense and public safety and that should be backed by law. They cannot step back from this critical issue and leave our members set up as punchbags.
Britain’s inflation rate has risen to 2.5% – its highest level in almost three years – after the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions prompted rising demand, my colleague Larry Elliott reports.
Here are some more lines from the interviews that Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has been giving this morning.
Whilst we are going from this being a legal requirement to guidelines, we do expect individual carriers to make sure they are putting in place whatever is appropriate for their network.
The airlines have already said that you will need to carry on wearing masks on those. It is very much in line with what we expected – indeed wanted – to happen.
We review these every three weeks. I hope we have made very clear to everybody when booking trips at the moment there is always the chance that countries will move around. Some countries may go to the red list, some countries may go to the green, but some may move the other way to the amber list. It is a fact of life that they will continue to move around as the virus continues to develop and change globally.
He said Britons jabbed with doses of the AstraZeneca manufactured in India should be able to travel abroad as easily as other fully-vaccinated people. Today the Daily Telegraph has splashed on a story (paywall) about a couple who were not allowed to board a flight to Malta because their AZ vaccine was from a batch manufactured in India not approved by some EU countries. Asked about the story, Shapps said:
It is not right and it shouldn’t be happening.
The medicines agency, the MHRA, have been very clear that it doesn’t matter whether the AstraZeneca you have is made here or the Serum Institute in India, it is absolutely the same product, it provides exactly the same levels of protection from the virus.
So we will certainly speak to our Maltese colleagues to point all this out. Obviously it is up to them what they do. But we will be making the scientific point in the strongest possible terms there is no difference, we don’t recognise any difference.
Good morning. On Monday the government is lifting the legal requirement for people in England to wear masks on public transport. Domestic train operators and bus companies have also said that they will not enforce mask-wearing from next week. But Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has broken ranks with his fellow transport chiefs (he runs Transport for London) and said that in the capital face coverings will remain compulsory on buses, the tube and other TfL services. His press release about the announcement is here and here is my colleague Gwyn Topham’s story.
Khan’s approach is in obvious contrast to the policy of the UK government (although it is in line with the approach of the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the Northern Ireland assembly). And so perhaps you might expect Westminister ministers to be critical? But, no, this morning, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said that Khan’s policy “makes sense”. He told Times Radio.
We expect carriers to provide rules or what we call conditions of carriage appropriate to their own circumstances. And obviously, London Underground is a particularly crowded network. And, of course, we said people should wear masks in crowded areas. So just in the same way as the airlines have made it a stipulation – an ongoing stipulation – we expected – indeed invited TfL – to do the same thing. So no surprises there. And if you think about it, it makes sense.
We’ve moved from the point in the crisis where everything is set in law to a point where we put in place a degree of a personal responsibility and also ask the carriers in this case – the transport carriers – to make clear the conditions of travel on their particular network.
This does rather beg the question, if mandating mask wearing on public transport is such a good idea, why did the government refuse to carry on legislating for this? On the Today programme Khan was asked by Nick Robinson if he thought that Boris Johnson always knew that TfL would keep masks compulsory but “wants the credit with his own supporters for crying freedom, while relying on [Khan] and some others to enforce mask wearing”. Khan responded diplomatically:
I wish anybody luck who can read Boris Johnson’s mind. I certainly can’t.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, gives evidence to the Lords constitution committee on the future of the UK.
3.15pm: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, gives evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee about having a gender-sensitive parliament.
4pm: Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, gives evidence to a Lords sub-committee about the Northern Ireland protocol.
5.15pm: Drakeford holds a press conference on changes to Covid rules in Wales.
Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that will probably be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.
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