It was confirmed last night that two people rushed to hospital in Amesbury earlier this week had been exposed to novichok, the same nerve agent used to attack Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March.
The couple collapsed just miles from where the Skripals were found, which may bring into question the effectiveness of the decontamination process which followed the incident. It’s only a fortnight since the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall confidently declared the area ‘open for business’.
Following the latest developments, several parks, buildings and even a bin have been cordoned off by police, with one member of the public heard to cry out: “What’s the bin done wrong?” - a sentiment that I’m sure is echoed across the nation.
This will all be unwelcome news for Vladimir Putin, whose nation had been edging its way back into everyone’s good books by hosting one of the most entertaining football world cups in recent memory. The backlash against Putin’s government was severe following the attack in March, but England’s successes and other nations’ defeats in the competition have seen football fever take hold, with any thoughts of grabbing the pitchforks and marching East put on the back burner, momentarily at least.
In the last couple of weeks we seem to have returned to an in-between state of mind, where Putin is still acknowledged as threat, but a somewhat distant and light-hearted one. The kind of threat we can dub World Cup anthems over and hand the VAR reins to.
This may be an altogether more comfortable arrangement for all concerned, but when the football’s all over, the heatwave recedes and everyone sobers up, there will be some very serious questions to answer. What lessons have been learned since the original poisoning? Is Russia an immediate threat to our security? And how can we be sure that there will be no more casualties in Wiltshire or elsewhere?
An investigation by The Times has found that just one hospital trust met all its main targets in the past year. According to the report, dozens of hospitals have missed targets on A&E, cancer treatment and routine surgery waiting times, with doctors saying the system is “like a giant game of Jenga”.
An arrest has been made in the investigation into the murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail on the Isle of Bute. A male teenager, who has not been named, was taken into custody on Wednesday as police renewed their appeal for witnesses.
Theresa May has reportedly been warned against skirting controversial issues, such as freedom of movement and services, at Friday’s away-day meeting at Chequers to discuss Brexit. Ministers say they are concerned that the focus on customs arrangements will be too narrow. Remain supporters feel it ignores the services sector, while Brexiteers are said to be worried that freedom of movement will not be discussed.
Business & Economy
Jaguar Land Rover, Britain’s largest car manufacturer, has warned that a ‘hard Brexit’ could cost the company more than £1.2 billion in profit each year. Chief Executive Ralf Speth called for certainty about the future relationship between Britain and the EU to enable the company to decide whether to invest £80 billion in UK manufacturing in the coming five years. Greg Clark, the business secretary, said: “JLR is a great British success story. We are determined to make sure that it can continue to prosper and to invest in Britain.”
WPP has warned its former chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell that he may lose a £20 million bonus if he succeeds in the bidding war for Dutch company Media Monks. WPP’s lawyers contacted Sir Martin to warn that his confidentiality agreement prohibits him from using any information learned while at the company. A spokesperson for Sir Martin insisted that the tycoon would resist any attempt by his former employer to withhold bonus payments.
A survey of the services sector showed stronger than expected activity last month, suggesting the UK economy has bounced back from the soft patch of the opening months of this year. The health check, by the Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply and IHS Markit, reported the strongest growth in eight months, with bad weather at the beginning of the year increasingly blamed for the economic slump.
What happened yesterday?
Global stocks suffered yesterday, with most major indices ending the day down, as investors awaited Friday’s deadline for US and Chinese tariffs to take effect.
US markets were closed for the Independence Day public holiday, however, the Nikkei, the Hang Seng, the Shanghai Composite Index and the DAX all finished lower.
It was a similar story here in the UK, with the FTSE 100 closing down 20.20, or 0.27%, at 7,573.09.
Mining companies were among the worst performers on the main index, with Antofagasta dropping 2.68%, Evraz shedding 2.54%, BHP Billiton down 2.35% and Rio Tinto 2.28% lower. Anglo American bucked the trend, climbing 2.11% on the back of reports that Indian metals tycoon Anil Agarwal is seeking to merge Vendata Resource, in which he holds a 62.5% stake, with Anglo American’s South African business via a share swap.
Another strong performer was Sainsbury’s, which rose 2.95% after the company reported a better than expected sales performance in the second quarter.
In the currency markets, the pound was up 0.03% against the dollar at $1.3234 and gained 0.04% against the euro to €1.1352.
Associated British Foods
Bovis Homes Group
Empiric Student Property
Great Portland Estates
Invesco Income Growth Trust
International Economic Announcements
(07:00) Factory Orders (GER)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(13:30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(14:45) PMI Composite (US)
(14:45) PMI Services (US)
(15:00) ISM Non-Manufacturing (US)
(16:00) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
Columns of Note
In The Times, David Aaronovitch writes that the populist movement’s disregard for science and medical consensus is resulting in falling rates of vaccination and thus, an increasing number of cases of deadly diseases. He cites Italy’s 85% vaccination rate (far below the recommended immunity rate of 95%) and Donald Trump’s promise to Americans that there would be a review of US medical practice around vaccinations. Aaronovitch suggests that these movements are not necessarily anti-vaccine but anti-establishment.
Martin Kettle writes in The Guardian that the government must choose a soft-Brexit strategy at Chequers tomorrow, as the only other option is a no-deal Brexit which is an unstable and unsuitable option. Kettle is certain that ministers will not back a no-deal option, but asks whether a soft Brexit is much of a good plan either.
Did you know?
Russia’s largest museum, The Hermitage in St Petersburg, is home to around 70 cats who guard its treasures from rodents. The tradition dates back to 1745.
House of Commons
Transport (including Topical Questions)
The principle of proxy voting in the House of Commons
House of Lords
Ensuring that NHS patients have equitable access to artificial intelligence, genomic medicine, new drugs,and innovative treatments. - Baroness Thornton
Ensuring Government strategy for NHS and social care services recognises the importance of parity of esteem - Baroness Wheeler
What plans the Government have to amend or repeal that Health and Social Care Act 2012 - Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
Risks to the NHS and implications for access to medical supplies as a result of leaving the EU with no withdrawal agreement - Lord Bassam of Brighton
In recess until 3 September
House of Commons
National Living Wage (Extension to Young People) Bill - 2nd reading - Holly Lynch
Fishing (Access to Territorial Waters) Bill - 2nd reading - Sir Christopher Chope
Tax Rates and Duties (Review) Bill - 2nd reading - Sir Christopher Chope
Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill - Paul Flynn
Wild Animals in Circuses Bill - 2nd reading - Trudy Harrison
House of Lords
No business scheduled