Top story: China reserves the right to take ‘corresponding measures’
Good morning and welcome to this Thursday briefing with me, Alison Rourke.
China has hit back at Boris Johnson’s pledge to honour a promise of the right to settle in the UK to nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents who hold British national (overseas) status. Beijing’s ambassador in London vowed his country would take “corresponding measures” to stop such a move. Liu Xiaoming said all residents of Hong Kong are Chinese nationals, whether or not they come under the PM’s offer. “We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures,” he said in a statement posted on the embassy’s website on Thursday. “The UK has no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of ‘supervision’ over Hong Kong”. Almost 400 people have been arrested in Hong Kong as thousands protested against the new security law, enacted on Tuesday. It comes as the UK granted asylum to Simon Cheng, a former Hong Kong consulate worker who alleged he was tortured in China and accused of inciting political unrest in the city.
Dominic Raab admitted yesterday that there was little Britain could do to “coercively force” China if it tried to block take-up of the government’s visa pledge. But as Patrick Wintour writes, new UK human rights sanctions legislation set to be published in the next few weeks is being touted as a possible tool with which to confront Chinese officials over Hong Kong. Overnight, the US House of Representatives joined the Senate in approving a bill to rebuke China over its crackdown in Hong Kong, by imposing sanctions on groups that undermine the city’s autonomy or restrict its freedoms.
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Jobs crash – The full force of the pandemic seems to be emerging as huge job cuts hit major high-street retailers. More than 6,000 were lost on Wednesday, bringing the total this week to at least 10,000. The latest casualties will include workers at Arcadia group, SSP, Harrods and John Lewis. The latter says they won’t reopen some of their stores shut during the lockdown, and the staff’s annual bonus – a hallmark of the employee-owned group’s culture – is in doubt. SSP, which owns Upper Crust and Caffè Ritazza, will axe 5,000 jobs out of its 9,000 UK workforce. Harrods told its staff that one in seven of its 4,800 employees would be affected by job cuts arising from the “ongoing impacts” of the pandemic. Philip Green’s Arcadia, which owns Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Evans and Wallis – said 20% of its head office jobs would go in the coming weeks.
The news comes as the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist said the UK should should prioritise spending on green projects to create jobs and kickstart the economic recovery. Gita Gopinath said mounting unemployment would require swift action to prevent lasting damage. The Treasury seemed to regret its push to get people to spend in pubs, when it deleted a tweet calling on patrons to “raise a glass” when doors reopen on Saturday in England. Critics said it was in poor taste, given the 43,000 deaths during caused by the pandemic. A&E doctors pleaded with revellers not to ‘“get plastered” on so-called “Super Saturday”, as the NHS is already overstretched. Police will step up patrols and also urged patrons to drink responsibly.
Abroad, and the US has recorded another daily high in cases, this time 52,000 for Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins figures. It came after Donald Trump told Fox Business he still believed the virus would disappear, adding: “And I think we’re going to have a vaccine very soon too.” California ordered the closure of restaurants, bars and indoor venues.
There’s more in our Coronavirus Extra section further down … and here’s where you can find all our coverage of the outbreak – from breaking news to factchecks and advice.
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Geoffrey Rush – Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney tabloid, the Daily Telegraph, will have to pay the actor Geoffrey Rush a record £1.6m in damages after it lost its appeal against a historic defamation ruling. The newspaper, and its publisher, Nationwide News, had challenged a 2019 court decision that found claims conveyed in two of its news articles from 2017 that the Oscar winner had behaved inappropriately towards a colleague during the 2015-16 run of the Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear, were not credible.
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‘False and damaging articles’ – The Duchess of Sussex felt “unprotected” by the royal family from claims made in the UK tabloid press against her while she was pregnant, court documents have revealed. Meghan’s assertions were made in the latest submissions in her legal action against the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online publisher, Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), over the publication of extracts from a private handwritten letter she sent to her estranged father. Her lawyers said the duchess had “become the subject of a large number of false and damaging articles by the UK tabloid media, specifically by the defendant [ANL] which caused tremendous emotional distress and damage to her mental health”.
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Picasso’s lover – An unseen portrait of the artist’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, which the artist personally kept until his death, is to appear at auction for the first time. The 1931 charcoal drawing shines light on one of the great love affairs of the 20th century and was made by Picasso when his affair with Walter was still a closely guarded secret. Picasso, then 45 and unhappily married, had fallen for 17-year-old Walter when he noticed her through the window of Galeries Lafayette in Paris in 1927.
Leicester’s infection spike was driven by under-19s and workers, Public Health England (PHE) says, prompting calls to examine if the return to school may have played a role (there is as yet no analytical link). Meanwhile PHE data has revealed hotspots in Bradford, Barnsley and Rochdale. And MPs have been told that Oxford University is leading the world in developing a vaccine against Covid-19 and offers the best chance of having something protective against the virus as we go into winter.
Today in Focus podcast: The scandal of millions of Americans deprived of running water
Guardian US environmental justice reporter Nina Lakini reports on her landmark investigation into America’s water crisis, revealing that millions of Americans are facing unaffordable bills for running water and risk being disconnected or losing their homes.
Lunchtime read: What’s wrong with WhatsApp?
As coronavirus virus swept across the world and billions of people were compelled to stay at home, the popularity of one social media app rose more sharply than any other. By late March, usage of WhatsApp around the world had grown by 40%. In Spain, where the lockdown was particularly strict, it rose by 76%. In those early months, WhatsApp – which hovers neatly between the space of email, Facebook and SMS, allowing text messages, links and photos to be shared between groups – was a prime conduit through which waves of news, memes and mass anxiety travelled.
But as William Davies writes in today’s Long Read, private online groups hold their own dangers – to those both inside and out.
Frank Lampard admitted his team are far from the finished article after Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at West Ham meant they missed out on the chance to leapfrog Leicester into third place in the Premier League after the Foxes lost 2-1 at Everton. The Premier League will charge newly promoted clubs £8m each next season and in 2021-22 to help soften the blow of broadcast revenues lost because of the Covid-19 crisis. Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema has been voted women’s footballer of the year by the Football Writers’ Association after a Women’s Super League season in which she scored 16 goals in 14 appearances. England supporters hoping to attend this year’s autumn internationals have been dealt a major blow after the Rugby Football Union changed its ticketing policy to reserve the first 28,000 for corporate contracts. And West Indian cricket is mourning one of its favourite sons after the death of the great Sir Everton Weekes at 95.
Richard Branson is to inject £200m into Virgin Atlantic to help it survive the devastating effect of coronavirus on air travel. It is part of a rescue package worth up to £900m. Asian markets rebounded a bit overnight on positive reports about vaccine trials from Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. The FTSE100 is set to jump 0.65% this morning while the pound is up as well at $1.249 and €1.108.
The Guardian splashes with “Fears grow for UK high street as more than 6,000 jobs lost in a day”, above a large picture of the crackdown in Hong Kong. The Telegraph leads with “Infections tumble after lockdown relaxed” and also carries a picture of an arrested Hong Kong protester. The Times uses a closeup of the same protestor with the headline: “Britain opens its doors to 3m Hong Kong migrants”. The i has “Escape to the UK: citizenship offer for 3 million people”. The FT has “Johnson condemns Hong Kong law as breach of handover pact” and uses the same protester photo as the Guardian. The tabloids’ front pages stick closer to home. The Express has “Virus hotspots on the brink of lockdown”. The Mirror has “Our lost heroes” over a full page collage of “our incredible NHS staff and care workers”. The Mail steers away from coronavirus with: “Meghan: Palace hung me out to dry.”
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