Friday briefing: ministers told to stop ‘playing politics’ over Channel deaths

·10-min read
<span>Photograph: Ewan Bootman/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Ewan Bootman/Rex/Shutterstock

Top story: Victims thought to have been Iraqi Kurds

Hello, I’m Warren Murray with a welcome to your Friday briefing.

Ministers have been warned to stop “playing politics with people’s lives” or more lives will be lost in the Channel. Investigators are trying to identify the bodies of at least 27 victims, including a pregnant woman and three children, who drowned on Wednesday. They are thought to be predominantly Kurds from Iraq.

Residents of makeshift camps around Calais and Dunkirk told the Guardian that hundreds of people have travelled to northern France via Belarus following a crisis on its border with Poland. Many vowed to pursue their plans to cross to the UK in search of a better life – and throughout Thursday, new arrivals continued to come ashore in Dover.

On Thursday night Boris Johnson wrote to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, calling for joint patrols of French beaches; use of sensors and radar; maritime and airborne surveillance; better intelligence-sharing to arrest and prosecute people smugglers; and a bilateral agreement on sending arrivals back.

Macron defended Paris’s actions but said France was merely a transit country for many migrants and more European cooperation was needed to tackle illegal immigration: “I will ... say very clearly that our security forces are mobilised day and night.” France says its forces have stopped 65% of attempted crossings in recent months, up from 50%. Nicolas Laroye, a French border police officer in Dunkirk for 20 years and police trade union official, said: “When you see the number of my colleagues who wade into shallow waters to save women, children and young people – and a lot of lives have been saved – this week’s deaths are catastrophic.”

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Red list revived over B.1.1.529 – Flights from southern Africa will be banned and six countries placed on England’s travel red list as scientists raise the alarm over what is feared to be the worst Covid-19 variant yet identified. The B.1.1.529 variant was detected in South Africa and is under assessment by the World Health Organization. No cases have been detected in the UK. The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said it had “perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant. That would suggest that it may well be more transmissible and the current vaccines that we have may well be less effective.” A high number of mutations does not necessarily make a variant more transmissible: some experts believe Japan’s fall in cases came from mutations that drove Covid towards “natural extinction”. Prof Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, said the coming days and weeks would be key to determining the severity of the variant.

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Fishers threaten Channel blockade – French fishers are threatening to block access to the Channel tunnel, Calais ferry terminal and other ports today in the dispute over access to fishing waters. According to reports, they plan to take action in Saint-Malo in the morning, Calais at midday and Ouistreham in the afternoon. “The fishermen are demanding an immediate resolution to the dispute with the UK over the interpretation of the Brexit agreement,” Gérard Romiti, the president of the national maritime fisheries committee, told the French newspaper Le Figaro. Sources downplayed the potential impact, saying lorry volumes were always lower on Fridays and the blockade looked as if it would be “short-lived”.

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False start – The chancellor’s £2bn Kickstart pandemic jobs scheme may not be delivering value for money, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said. Companies that received subsidies to hire young people might well have done so anyway because the economy was reopening just as the scheme ramped up, said the NAO. Its head, Gareth Davies, said the Department for Work and Pensions “does not know whether the jobs created are of high quality or whether they would have existed without the scheme”. A separate report by cross-party peers accuses the government of allowing hundreds of thousands of young people to languish in unemployment when they could be learning new skills or serving apprenticeships. A government spokesperson said: “We have announced an extra £1.6bn in funding by 2024-25 to support more 16- to 19-year-olds through high-quality education, on top of extra funding in 2020-21 and 2021-22. This has contributed to the record high proportion of 16- to 18-year-olds in education or doing apprenticeships since consistent records began.”

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Plymouth victim didn’t know suspect – Police investigating the killing of 18-year-old Bobbi-Anne McLeod, who disappeared from a bus stop in Devon, have confirmed there is no known link between her and a man being held on suspicion of murder. Detectives in Plymouth were continuing to question a 24-year-old man. A man of 26, who was also arrested, has been released. Police said they were not currently looking for any other suspect. McLeod went missing on Saturday evening and her body was found on Tuesday. Hundreds of people attended a candle-lit vigil on Thursday evening close to the bus stop where McLeod was last seen.

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‘Broken and exhausted’ – GPs in England have voted in favour of limited industrial action to protest against the government’s drive to enforce face-to-face consultations. Each of the 5,144 GP practices in England where a partner is a British Medical Association member had a vote. However, only 1,798 took part – a 35% response rate – which may indicate a reluctance to take industrial action. Dr Farah Jameel, new head of the BMA’s GP committee, called on the health secretary, Sajid Javid, to do more to reduce the workloads of “demoralised, broken and exhausted” family doctors. “Ultimately we don’t want to have to take action – we want to see action.” The vote backed the withholding of information about how GPs hold appointments, to stop the government “naming and shaming” surgeries; and refusal to comply with the issuing of Covid-19 exemption certificates; as well as other steps.

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Down with Black Friday – With the start of a frantic month of Christmas shopping upon us, we asked our readers to get in touch about the ways they have challenged consumerism. Responses ranged from revolutionary changes such as giving up buying new clothes to subtler tweaks such as making sandwiches rather than buying a plastic-encased meal deal.

Woman at a sewing machine
Rage against the machine by doing your own sewing. Photograph: Dougal Waters/Getty Images

Everyone agreed, however, that turning their back on a culture that constantly demands more from consumers came with financial and environmental benefits, not to mention a feeling of smug satisfaction that money simply can’t buy.

Today in Focus podcast: Making of a tragedy at sea

At least 27 people died when their boat sank in the Channel attempting to reach the UK. Diane Taylor reports on a tragedy that was long in the making – and avoidable.

Lunchtime read: Inflation – can our leaders get a grip?

Financial markets fear the world’s leading central banks are risking “economic disaster” by misjudging the threat of rising inflation and not turning off the stimulus taps that have flooded the global economy with money during the pandemic. While central banks stick largely to the mantra that inflation is “transitory” and price pressures on everything from timber to turkeys will ease in the coming months, economists, business leaders and investors are ringing alarm bells.

European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde
The European Central Bank president, Christine Lagarde. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters

Poland has gone on the attack against inflation immediately, cutting taxes on fuels and on energy, and offering bonuses to hardest-hit households, to create an “anti-inflation shield”. New Zealand this week announced the second rate rise in as many months in an effort to cool inflation that hit 4.9% last month. South Korea’s central bank followed. Around the world, here is how major economies are dealing with the spectre of inflation.


The Premier League just got more interesting. Ralf Rangnick, set to be appointed as Manchester United’s interim manager and then as a club consultant after the departure of Ole Gunnar Solskjær, has already had a successful impact on English football. Exeter Chiefs are preparing to ditch their Native American branding after calls from a majority of their supporters to make a change. In a statement Exeter stopped short of confirming their future plans but said a decision on “what the club will do next” would be forthcoming “within the next few weeks”.

Pat Cummins has been named Australian Test captain and Steve Smith his deputy in a leadership shake-up following Tim Paine’s controversial resignation last week. On the same day as Paine took an indefinite leave of absence from the game, Cricket Australia confirmed the worst-kept secret of the week by appointing the steady hand of Cummins to lead a shell-shocked team through an Ashes defence now less than two weeks away.

It would count as one of the more seismic shocks in modern chess history if Magnus Carlsen were to lose his world title over the next three weeks in Dubai. Yet when his Russian opponent Ian Nepomniachtchi plays the first move of their 14-game match on Friday, he will be armed with two potentially intriguing advantages. As the England and Wales Cricket Board once again postponed publication of its plan to improve diversity in the sport, the game took a backward step when Mehmooda Duke stood down from her role as chair of Leicestershire.


Shares have headed for their largest weekly drop while safe-haven assets such as bonds and the yen have rallied as the new Covid variant adds to concerns about future growth and higher US interest rates. The Australian and New Zealand dollars dropped to three-month lows while Japan’s Nikkei was down 1.7% in early trade and Australian shares fell 0.6%. The yen jumped about 0.4% to 114.91 per dollar and gold rose 0.2% to $1,792 per ounce. This morning according to futures trading, the FTSE could open 100 points or so down. The pound has dipped to $1.330 and €1.185 at time of writing.

The papers

Our Guardian print edition leads today with “Six countries on red list as Covid variant poses ‘significant threat’”. The tragedy in the Channel remains front page news as well: “MPs told to act to stop loss of life”. The Metro has the headline “We just want to live like you”. In the Mirror it’s “DIY death boats” – the paper says “gangs of greedy people smugglers” are sending people over in flimsy rafts and has a picture of one such contraption. “I know the risk. This is my only way to reach England” – the i quotes an asylum seeker.

The Times has “PM wants joint patrols in France” and also says “Variant halts travel to Africa”, while the Telegraph quotes a husband’s anguish: “My wife was on the boat. I tracked the GPS … then it disappeared”. The Express predicts “UK troops to patrol French beaches”. The Mail disagrees entirely: “Macron’s ‘non’ to UK boots on French beaches”. Matters also sound far from settled in the Financial Times: “Britain and France clash over response to Channel tragedy”. The Sun’s front page bypasses the Channel story, instead covering I’m A Celebrity and the “Mutant bug ban”.

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