In any ordinary circumstances, you’d think that playing football or skateboarding in the halls might be enough to render you an unwelcome house guest. The odd time you’ve put your shoes on the couch or pinched from the cookie jar might be turned a blind eye to. But hacking your host’s personal records, denouncing them to their neighbours, and – ahem – smearing excrement on the walls in protest when you’ve been asked to leave is quite another matter.
Then again Julian Assange has been no run-of-the-mill resident at the Ecuadorian embassy in London these past seven years. And now, no longer. “The Guest”, as he became known among the security staff who reportedly manned his eight rooms and put up with his mood swings, was yesterday arrested by UK authorities after Ecuador revoked his asylum following repeated political criticism and intelligence interference.
In the UK, Assange faces up to 12 months in prison for failing to surrender to a court warrant made in connection with two counts of rape sought by the Swedish government since 2012. But in the US – to where it is likely he will now be extradited – he faces up to five years in jail for an indictment that he conspired with former US intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, to access and release 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables via the anti-secrecy website, WikiLeaks. For other alleged crimes, including several counts of espionage, Assange could even face the death penalty.
While from this side of Brexit and Trump, the political questions of 2012 might seem like ancient history, the allegations against Assange are not. They go straight to the heart of unresolved issues surrounding the extent of western governments’ military strategy, whistleblowing, political protest and security in the age of mass surveillance. That Assange has sought to lead a critique of liberal democracy, but whose actions suggest he considers himself above the law, is just as important.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has chosen to spend the first morning of his parliamentary recess to state his opposition to Assange’s extradition which suggests that the next 12 Brexit-free days might see some fireworks. And just when we thought we could enjoy a hard-earned reprieve.
Unlike Assange now, I think I’ll sit this fight out indoors.
Sky News reports that the UK government has stood down planning for a no-deal Brexit with “immediate effect”. According to an email detailing the minutes of a Cabinet meeting yesterday, all civil servants and funds earmarked for no-deal preparation over the last two years will be returned to their home departments. Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that Downing Street is preparing to put a Brexit deal – likely via a series of indicative votes – before the Commons when MPs return on 23 April.
Israel has failed in its bid to become the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon after its Beresheet spacecraft crash landed. The aim of the mission was to photograph and conduct experiments, funded by about $100m from private sources which is considered a fraction of traditional moon landing costs. The spacecraft was launched in February and failed as a result of extreme temperatures.
Former Pope Benedict XVI has blamed the paedophilia crisis within the Catholic Church on a moral collapse triggered by the 1960s sexual revolution. In a rare public intervention since his retirement in 2013 and published in the German religious magazine Klerusblatt, Benedict wrote that: “Part of the physiognomy of the revolution of ’68 was that paedophilia was also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.” The “dissolution of the moral teaching authority of the church” quickly followed. (£)
Business & Economy
Uber has revealed details of its intention to float on the New York Stock Exchange, warning that it “may not achieve profitability” as a result of rising operating costs. The deal is likely to value the US ride-sharing app firm at about $100 billion, valuing each share at between $48 and $55 and is expected to raise $10 billion through the flotation, making it the largest IPO this year.
Barclays has accused the activist investor Edward Bramson of being “disruptive and uncollaborative” in his bid to secure a position on its board. Barclays was responding to a notice by Bramson earlier this week which urged the bank’s shareholders to back him as a non-executive director ahead of an AMG on May 2. The bank suggested that Bramson has a “poor understanding” of the business, and had structured his 5.5% holding to detriment of other shareholders’ interests. (£)
What happened yesterday?
The London market was relatively sanguine on news that the proverbial Brexit can has been kicked further down the road, with notable corporate gains meanwhile made in the travel and housebuilding sectors. By close of play, the FTSE 100 was down just 0.1% at 7,417.95 points, while the pound was down on both the dollar by 0.2% at $1.31 and on the euro by 0.1% at €1.16.
In wider economic news, the latest figures from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) showed that house prices rose in March – marking growth for the first time since July last year on an albeit negative index reading of -27. Traders were also buoyed by news of US-Chinese agreement on an enforcement mechanism as the precursor to a potential trade deal.
In corporate news, travel stocks EasyJet (up 8.95%), IAG (up 5.90%) and Tui (up 8.27%) were the day’s highfliers to benefit from the Brexit reprieve, which is hoped will now allow holidaymakers to guarantee travel plans over the summer. Housebuilders Persimmon (up 4.00%) and Berkeley (up 3.41%) both gained on the RICS data, which suggests that recent pessimism in the housing market may have been overplayed.
Fashion brand Ted Baker was on the slide after announcing Lindsay Page as it new chief exec, and suggesting it had identified “several areas for improvement” following an investigation into the conduct of its former CEO Ray Kelvin. Ex-dividends took just under eight points off the FTSE 100 over the course of the day, with Standard Life Aberdeen (down 3.37%), Aviva (down 3.01%), ITV (down 3.06%) and Mondi (down 2.26%) among the names affected.
Highland Gold Mining Ltd.
Bank Audi S.A.L GDR
Banco Santander S. A.
Arbuthnot Banking Group
Intl. Economic Announcements
(10.00) Industrial Production (EU)
(13.30) Import and Export Price Indices (US)
(15.00) U. of Michigan Confidence (Prelim) (US)
Columns of Note
The philosopher Roger Scruton, who was fired as a government advisor this week for perceived anti-Semitic and Islamophobic remarks he made in theNew Statesman, writes an incendiary rebuttal in The Spectator. He suggests that his initial article was taken out of context, adding that: “Not for the first time I am forced to acknowledge what a mistake it is to address young leftists as though they were responsible human beings.”
In The Times, Alistair Osborne suggests that the failings of transport secretary Chris Grayling is making the case to renationalise Britain’s railways. He suggests that Grayling’s dismissal of private bids for future public franchises by Stagecoach and Virgin Trains were politically motivated, and were disincentivised by being urged to take on disproportionate risk. (£)
Did you know?
Scientists estimate that nearly three per cent of the total ice contained in Antarctic glaciers originates in penguin urine.
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