Welcome to Friday’s Early Edition from i.
It’s an issue that will either make your blood boil, or send you into a deep, willfully ignorant sleep. But the Northern Ireland protocol is back making headlines as once again the UK government prepares to enter more negotiations with the EU over Brexit. The aim is to secure a breakthrough before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement in April. Today, the topic will be debated in the House of Lords. In Northern Ireland itself, ongoing talks over the deal are likely to once more delay the return of power-sharing in Belfast, which broke down because of disagreements over it. So what are the sticking points, and could Keir Starmer make any difference?
We’ll take a look after the headlines.
Today’s news, and why it matters
Rishi Sunak will seek to head off a Red Wall rebellion over levelling up cash after he was accused of forcing councils to put out a “begging bowl” to secure Government funding. The deprived areas that missed out on the funding have spoken about feeling “neglected”. “There’s not even any decent parks any more, they’re all full of broken glass,” one said. It also comes as analysis shows Tory seats gained significantly more money per person from the fund.
A former Met Police officer who left the force less than a year after joining told i he has little hope that ejecting hundreds of employees from the service will spark change as recruits quickly adopt bad practices. “When it comes to mental health calls and domestic abuse calls, I remember some of the eye rolling that would happen… they’re fatigued by the numerous amounts or the repeat calls,” he said.
Striking community nurses have told how they are being forced to care for an unsafe number of patients and feel “pressurised” into doing things that they are not supposed to do while the NHS is in crisis. Gurpreet Kaur, a community nurse on the picket line outside the Heart of Hounslow Centre for Health in west London, told i she typically sees up to 15 patients a day.
A £11m London apartment thought to belong to Ruja Ignatova, also known as the “missing cryptoqueen”, who is accused of defrauding investors out of £3.2bn, is up for sale. Jamie Bartlett, who conducted a BBC investigation into her case, told i the news was “one of the most interesting developments in the story”. He said: “It suggests she is still alive, and there are documents out there somewhere which contain vital clues as to her recent whereabouts.”
Two retired Metropolitan Police officers have been charged with child sex offences as part of an investigation into a serving chief inspector who was found dead before he was charged. The Met said the charges followed a “lengthy and complex” investigation into Richard Watkinson, 49, who was a Met Chief Inspector for neighbourhoods policing at the West Area Command Unit.
Three current questions over Brexit:
Is there a deal on the cards? Firstly, if you’re not sure what the Northern Ireland protocol is, we have a handy little guide here. Secondly, and to the question, the short answer is simply no. Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin said on Thursday there was still a “mountain that has to be climbed”, as “formidable challenges” lie in the way. Chris Heaton-Harris, Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary, said he hoped a breakthrough on talks over the protocol would also help deliver a solution to the powersharing deadlock in Stormont, where the DUP has been boycotting power sharing until the protocol row is resolved. “You will be aware that there are also important talks going on in Brussels between the UK government and European Union,” he said. “And if we can solve one problem, we might be able to solve another.” But one Government source told Rob Merrick, writing for i, the idea that a breakthrough was imminent had been “hyped up”, adding: “People need to calm down.”
What are the sticking points? One expert body has identified at least eight disagreements, from customs, to sausages, and pets. Some of these are administrative, such as health certificates, vaccines and microchipping for pets. But others could be significantly harder to find common ground on. For example, the role and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is likely to prove highly contentious. Jess Sargeant, a Brexit expert at the Institute for Government (IfG), told i: “The EU has not offered anything on state aid or the ECJ which have, historically, been red lines for the UK government and for a lot of the prime minister’s backbenchers. Agreement looks unlikely. If the Prime Minister insists any deal must include changes on the role of the ECJ, then it is not clear how it will be possible to get one.”
Did someone mention Keir Starmer? The Labour leader has recently offered to help Rishi Sunak pass any Brexit compromise on Northern Ireland without the help of Conservative Eurosceptics in a bid to defang the “Brexit purity cult”. “Whatever mechanism in Westminster you require, if it delivers for our national interest and the people of Northern Ireland, we will support you,” he said last week. But Sir Keir may make another kind of difference in the long run. Yesterday at Davos, he set out his vision for a post-Brexit Britain that would push for closer trade ties with Europe. So far, his outlook has gone down well with EU officials. “He would be reliable – we have had too many breaches under the Conservatives,” Austrian MEP Andreas Schieder told i. “We know when he agrees to something, it will be settled – and this is what the EU is looking for.”
Around the world
Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has suggested the country could send Ukraine tanks without Germany’s permission, saying Kyiv’s ability to “defend freedom in Ukraine” may depend on it. “Permission is a secondary matter. We will either get it quickly or do what we see fit,” he said. The US is also stuck in a standoff with Germany over whether to send tanks to Ukraine.
Russians have defied police, leaving flowers and toys at memorials to Ukrainian victims of the Dnipro tower attack. Several arrests have been reported at the sites, which are now subject to police patrols. But on Thursday, flowers were still arriving at memorials as Russians continued to pay their respects to the victims of the strike, with the death toll having reached 45.
Film star Alec Baldwin has been charged with involuntary manslaughter following the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the filming of Rust in 2021. Mr Baldwin had denied responsibility for her death and said he believed the weapon was safe to use.
One resident described it as the sound of “a small jet that never leaves”. It’s the “sound” of crypto mining. Now a small town in North Carolina suffering from relentless noise are fighting to have crypto mining regulated or banned in the US.
US singer-songwriter David Crosby, who co-founded The Byrds and supergroup Crosby, Still & Nash, has died aged 81. His wife Jan Dance wrote: “It is with great sadness after a long illness, that our beloved David (Croz) Crosby has passed away. His legacy will continue to live on through his legendary music.”
Watch out for…
seatbeltgate. Lancashire Police are looking into Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after he failed wear a seatbelt during a social media clip in the back of a moving car.
Thoughts for the day
It’s grim up north for Rishi Sunak – and his levelling up plan won’t help. While Boris Johnson could get away with some of the bluster, Sunak still suffers from sounding more like a forbidding bank manager than a car salesman, writes Paul Waugh.
Jacinda Ardern pioneered a new style of politics – and she’ll be remembered for it. Her legacy will be rich, diverse and, undoubtedly, argued over, says Simon Kelner.
Are we supposed to be grateful that King Charles has given us crumbs of his wealth? Even when they dodge their taxes, rich people laud a few crumbs in charitable donations as some great act of munificence, Andrew Fisher notes.
All Quiet on the Western Front’s Bafta nominations sweep is no surprise – awards are obsessed with war films. With a record 14 nominations, the elegant Netflix film is a frontrunner for next month’s ceremony. But, Christina Newland asks, is the fixation with lauding stories about war coming at the cost of other films – and film-makers?
The Big Read
‘I was abused by a police officer. After David Carrick, I would never call the police’. Freya, who launched the Police Me Too website to amplify voices of women and girls, talks to Serina Sandhu about her campaign.
Tottenham go from the sublime to the ridiculous with Champions League hopes slipping away fast. Nothing about January, on or off the pitch, is convincing Antonio Conte that this project is salvageable, writes Katherine Lucas.
Something to brighten your day
A toxic reptilian monster has been uncovered in the wilds of Australia’s tropical north. They called the beast “toadzilla”. It is in fact a giant cane toad, believed to be the largest of her species ever found. “A cane toad that size will eat anything it can fit into its mouth, and that includes insects, reptiles and small mammals,” one expert said.