Usually when it is my turn to pen the introduction for our daily briefing, the most challenging part for me is the opening paragraph. It should normally be playful whilst laying a foundation, interesting enough to encourage you to read further on, whilst introducing, or at least hinting, at the subject matter under exploration.
Today, however, it’s not right to deploy this old writer’s trick. The sheer horror of what we witnessed over the weekend in Sri Lanka demands as straight a bat as possible. The human tragedy on show is just incomprehensible for those not living it, or who have been unfortunate enough to live it before. Multiple nations are affected by the co-ordinated show of terror, which targeted three Christian churches across Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in Colombo, plus two other smaller sites. At the time of writing, the death toll has now exceeded 300.
How is it possible to make any sense of this? Our first response as human beings is, understandably, to look at the human impact. We know that the largest shareholder in Asos has lost three of his four children. One British citizen, Ben Nicholson, lost his wife and both his children as they ate breakfast at the Shangri-la Hotel. More desperately sad stories will surely emerge, as will tales of heroism in unimaginable circumstances. And, as is only human, fingers will also be pointed as to whether or not it was all avoidable and if this terror group could have been stopped.
It is truly, truly tragic for Sri Lanka, a country that has propelled itself forward over the past decade after so much adversity. Its achievement in ending a 25-year civil war in 2009 was overlooked owing to the fact that it came in the midst of the global financial crisis and was followed shortly afterwards by the tumultuous events of the Arab Spring. Its suffering during the 2004 tsunami is also largely forgotten, as we tend to focus more on the impact the other side of the Bay of Bengal in Indonesia.
Sri Lanka put these twin disasters behind it and, backed with investment from global players such as China, had begun to refashion itself as both a tourist destination and a viable, modern 21st century economy. Plans for a whole new ‘Port City’ are well underway. Speaking as someone who lived in the Middle East until early last year, I can testify to the significant efforts Sri Lanka made to attract tourism from the Gulf nations (just 3-4 hours away by plane), a drive which saw some success and an increase in flights and capacity from the region to Colombo.
Now, will this long-overdue march forward be stopped in its tracks? The ethnic tensions that led to the bloody quarter-century conflict are being addressed and, whilst not perfect, have yielded progress. It looks as if religious fundamentalism in a country that houses a melting pot of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians (and has generally housed them well), will be the next major challenge for this island nation. As we grieve those lost to such a callous attack, our thoughts are with Sri Lanka in meeting this challenge head on.
The ‘New IRA’ has admitted that it is responsible for the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry last week.
Easter Monday was the hottest ever for all four UK nations, reaching 25 degrees in England, and 23.6, 23.5 and 21.4 degrees in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. Additionally, the National Grid confirmed that Britain broke another record over the Easter weekend – the longest continuous period without generating electricity from coal (over 90 hours).
The US has informed five nations that they will no longer be exempt from sanctions if they continue to import oil from Iran after existing waivers end on 2 May. In a move designed to increase economic pressure on the Iranian government, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, China and India will not receive any grace period to comply.
Business & Economy
The FT reports from sources that Barclays is planning to cut bonuses as part of a cost-cutting drive to boost returns at its underperforming investment division. This is part of an effort to thwart activist investor Edward Bramson as he tries to force his way onto the company’s board. According to the FT: “The rate at which bankers accrue annual bonuses is set to be more closely tied to performance, with accrual in the first quarter expected to be down by double digits compared with last year.”
Herman Cain has withdrawn from consideration for the US Federal Reserve Board. President Trump’s preferred nominee, and a former Republican presidential candidate himself, Mr Cain has said that he did so because of the big pay cut he would face in order to take the role, rather than any concern over Senate opposition to his appointment.
A study by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has found that more than 320,000 self-employed people in Britain are working two or more jobs. A term that has been coined for this type of work is ‘slashie’, meaning that the person works at job 1/job 2/job 3 etc.
New findings from insurance company Hiscox reveal that the proportion of UK firms reporting a cyber-attack has increased from 40% last year to 55% now. Around 75% of firms were classified as “novices” and not equipped to deal with such attacks. Hiscox surveyed more than 5,400 small, medium and large businesses across seven countries.
According to figures collected by the Royal Statistical Society and seen by The Times, nearly 600 companies have almost certainly made mistakes in compiling their pay gap data. A further 1,000 reports have been flagged as suspicious. This means that up to 15% of the 10,683 submissions could be incorrect. Greene King, the FTSE 250 company, was one of the firms which entered its data incorrectly, as was Eastleigh Borough Council. Companies with more than 250 staff have been required by law to publish their pay gap since March last year.
What happened yesterday?
A number of markets across the world were inactive due to the Easter holiday. The US was not one of these markets, and the announcement that the Trump administration would stop sanctions waivers for some countries buying oil from Iran drove a lot of activity. It contributed to the biggest one-day rise for the energy sector since January. The S&P 500 index closed 0.1% higher, whilst the Nasdaq Composite was also up. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 0.1% down.
Brent crude oil was up three per cent to $74.10 per barrel and West Texas Intermediate also rose by a similar amount, to $65.70, a near six-month high.
At the time of writing this morning, indices in Asia and Australia are generally trending upwards, aided by energy companies.
MD Medical Group Investments GDR
The Simplybiz Group
UK Economic Announcements
(11:00) CBI Industrial Trends Survey
International Economic Announcements
(14:00) House Price Index (US)
(15:00) New Homes Sales (US)
Columns of Note
In the Financial Times Robert Shrimsley opines that time is now running out for the shale industry in the UK, which has fallen victim to tough regulation more dictated by politics than scientific reality. Currently, the Conservatives are the only party not opposed to fracking and they may be eyeing up a tougher stance in a bid to attract the younger voters they “so desperately need”. Rather than sending mixed messages that satisfy no one, he calls on the government to pick a side and stick to it.
In The Guardian Andrew Adonis, who is standing as an MEP candidate, writes about the need for Labour to stop Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party from winning the European elections, currently due to be held on 23 May. He adds that “only Labour, pro-European and committed to social and economic transformation, can defeat Farage and Faragism with the credibility of an alternative government”. He stresses Labour’s stance on a referendum on Brexit, and warns that a victory for Mr Farage would only embolden the hard right of the Conservative Party.
Did you know?
In 1325, the rival Italian cities of Modena and Bologna went to war over a stolen bucket. Modena won the only battle of this war and to this day still has possession of the bucket.
House of Commons
Justice (including Topical Questions)
To approve a Statutory Instrument relating to the draft Northern Ireland (Extension of period for Executive Formation) Regulations 2019 - Karen Bradley
To approve a Statutory Instrument relating to the Value Added Tax (Tour Operators) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 73) - Mel Stride
To approve a Statutory Instrument relating to the draft Electronic Communications (Amendment Etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Margot James
To approve a Statutory Instrument relating to the draft Animal Health, Seed Potatoes and Food (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Michael Gove
Business of the House (24 April) - Andrea Leadsom
Looe flood protection project - Mrs Sheryll Murray
House of Lords
No chamber business scheduled
Time for Reflection: Reverend Neil Gardner MA BD, Minister, Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh
Parliamentary Bureau Motions
Topical Questions (if selected)
Social Security Committee Debate: Social Security and In-work Poverty
Committee Announcement: Education and Skills Committee
Parliamentary Bureau Motions
Members' Business — S5M-16671 Claire Baker: The Open University at 50