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    European nations meet to discuss migrant crisis with Patel excluded from talks

    Interior ministers from across Europe are due to meet in Calais on Sunday to discuss the migrant crisis without Priti Patel, after her invite to the talks was rescinded.Emmanuel Macron reacted with fury to Boris Johnson’s publication of a letter making a series of demands on France, accusing him of not being “serious” about finding solutions and dramatically cancelled the invitation for home secretary to come to the summit.The prime minister tweeted a letter to Mr Macron outlining his call for talks to begin on a bilateral returns agreement, saying it could have “an immediate and significant impact” on attempts to cross the Channel, after the UK left a EU returns agreement as a result of Brexit.French government spokesman Gabriel Attal rejected the proposal as “clearly not what we need to solve this problem” as he said the Prime Minister’s letter “doesn’t correspond at all” with discussions Mr Johnson and Mr Macron had when they spoke on Wednesday.“We are sick of double-speak,” he added, and said Mr Johnson’s decision to post his letter on his Twitter feed suggested he was “not serious”.Emmanuel Macron reacted with fury to Boris Johnson’s publication of a letter making a series of demands on France, accusing him of not being “serious” about finding solutions and dramatically cancelling the invitation for home secretary to come to Paris for the talks.Ms Patel said on Thursday that conversations with her French counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, had been “constructive” , though she did not repeat the term about their talks on Friday as the diplomatic row came to head.“As I have said time and time again, there is no quick fix, no silver bullet. The UK cannot tackle this issue alone, and across Europe we all need to step up, take responsibility, and work together in a time of crisis,” she said in a statement.“We will not shy away from the challenge we face, and next week I will continue to push for greater co-operation with European partners because a failure to do so could result in even worse scenes in the freezing water during the coming winter months.”Her comments come after the capsizing in the Channel that claimed the lives of 27 people on Wednesday – the highest death toll on record in the current crisis – including an expectant mother, children and a 24-year-old Kurdish woman from northern Iraq trying to reunite with her fiancé. The prime minister tweeted a letter to Mr Macron outlining his call for talks to begin on a bilateral returns agreement, saying it could have “an immediate and significant impact” on attempts to cross the Channel, after the UK left a EU returns agreement as a result of Brexit. More

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    Omicron: England ‘nowhere near’ introducing tougher Covid restrictions, Sajid Javid says

    England is “nowhere near” introducing tougher Covid restrictions, Sajid Javid says, despite the return of mask-wearing and PCR tests for travellers.The health secretary rejected stricter curbs – such as social distancing, or a working from home rule – arguing they “carry a very heavy price” and are not necessary now, despite the arrival of the Omicron variant.Mr Javid also said people should “continue with their plans as normal for Christmas”, although warning it would be “irresponsible to make guarantees”.Asked about moving to harsher restrictions, including social distancing, Mr Javid told Sky News: “We are not there yet – we are nowhere near that.”He pointed out the measures announced by Boris Johnson on Saturday night, within hours of the first two Omicron cases being detected in the UK, would be reviewed after 3 weeks.“I hope this is something we can remove within weeks. In terms of making progress, we want life to go back towards normal,” the health secretary said.Mr Javid revealed that Tuesday is whne mask-wearing will be compulsory again in shops and on public transport in England – a rule never dropped in the rest of the UK.Day 2 PCR tests for all arrivals will be re-introduced from 4am that day, following discussions with the devolved governments.The health secretary rejected a warning that people will disobey the mask rule, arguing that – because it will now be a “government regulation” – “people will take it seriously”.He also dismissed fears that fears of cancelling Christmas will recur every winter, because widespread vaccination has changed the picture, while saying: “We will have to learn to live with Covid. We will never defeat it.”As part of a “temporary and precautionary” package announced late on Saturday, the prime minister also announced that the contacts of Omicron cases must isolate for 10 days.The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has been asked to urgently consider expanding booster jabs to under-40s and cutting the six-month gap after a second jab.One member of the Sage advisory group, psychologist Susan Michie, was quick to criticise the moves, saying: “This is plan B lite and we should have had plan B plus.”The two detected Omicron cases, in Essex and Nottingham, are “linked” and have been traced to travel to southern Africa. Targeted sequence testing in those areas is underway.And four more countries – Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia – have been added to the travel ‘red list’, requiring arrivals to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.Early evidence suggest Omicron may be more transmissible than the Delta variant, the current dominant strain, and that current vaccines may be less effective against it.However, some scientists have downplayed the dangers. The microbiologist Professor Calum Semple, who also sits on Sage, said some horror headlines were “hugely overstating the situation”. More

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    Czech president swears in opposition leader as new premier

    The Czech president on Sunday swore in Petr Fiala as the country’s new prime minister following last month’s parliamentary election.Milos Zeman in a wheelchair, was separated from Fiala and the other officials by transparent panels during the ceremony at the presidential chateau in Lany, west of Prague The president tested positive for coronavirus last week and must isolate.Zeman wished Fiala “success.” Following the Oct. 8-9 vote, a three-party, liberal-conservative coalition known as Together, composed of the Civic Democratic Party, Christian Democrats and the TOP 09 party, led with a 27.8% share of the vote.Together teamed up with a center-left liberal coalition made up of the Pirate Party and STAN — a group of mayors and independent candidates — which came in third place with 15.6% of votes.The new partnership will hold 108 seats in the 200-seat lower house of Parliament, relegating populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis and his centrist ANO (YES) movement to the opposition. The five parties in the future governing coalition have agreed on a power-sharing deal. They are closer to the European Union than Euroskeptic Babis. Fiala, 57, who has led the conservative Civic Democratic Party since 2014, is a professor of political sciences. Previously, he served as Education Minister between 2012-13.It’s not immediately clear when Zeman might appoint the entire Cabinet. Zeman said he will meet the candidates for the ministers between Monday and Dec 13 to discuss their future jobs. Zeman, 77, was only discharged from the capital’s military hospital on Saturday following more than a month’s treatment for an unspecified illness and then a couple of days of concern after he tested positive for the coronavirus. The ceremony had originally been due to take place on Friday.He was rushed to the hospital on Oct. 10, a day after the election for the lower house of parliament, and was treated in an intensive care unit. His condition was attributed to an unspecified chronic disease. More

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    Border Force workers ‘aghast’ at ‘inhumane’ migrant boat pushback plans as union joins legal action

    Border Force staff have joined the legal fight to stop Priti Patel from “pushing back” migrant boats in the Channel, branding the government’s plan “cruel and inhumane”.Their union, PCS, and charity Care4Calais are demanding the Home Office publish details of the policy and the legal basis for it.Following the deaths of 27 people as they tried to cross the Channel on a dinghy this week, pressure has mounted on the government to reverse its plan to make Border Force staff prevent boats from reaching the UK, which experts have warned would put migrants’ lives at greater risk.Protesters gathered in London on Saturday to call for safe passages across the channel.Charities Channel Rescue and Freedom from Torture have launched legal challenges against the government’s plan, along with Care4Calais and the PCS.Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, said: “The Pushback policy being pursued by the Home Secretary is unlawful, unworkable and above all morally reprehensible.“Our border force members are aghast at the thought they will be forced to implement such a cruel and inhumane policy.“Migrants who are trying to reach this country should be allowed to so via safe routes so that their claims can be assessed here.“The Home Office has until Monday to respond before the PCS considers further legal steps.Mr Serwotka said the union would pursue all legal routes, including a judicial review, if the government did not abandon its ”appalling approach“.He said Border Force workers would not rule out industrial action and could disrupt the implementation of the policy if the Home Secretary refuses to back down.The Independent has approached the Home Office for comment.Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais said: “We are incredibly proud to be joined in this action by PCS.”Not only will this challenge represent the interest of desperate people forced to risk their lives, it will also represent those who may well be forced to implement it.”A spokesperson for Care4Calais said charity workers were “devastated” when they heard of the deaths on Wednesday.The latest deaths come amid a sharp increase in Channel crossings this year. More than 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey to the UK so far in 2021, more than three times the number in 2020.Volunteers from Care4Calais were among 150 people who gathered near Downing Street on Saturday to call for safe passages across the channel. More

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    Anti-government protesters block bridges, roads in Serbia

    Skirmishes on Saturday erupted in Serbia between police and anti-government demonstrators who blocked roads and bridges in the Balkan country in protest against new laws they say favor interests of foreign investors devastating the environment. Hundreds of people on Saturday appeared simultaneously in the capital Belgrade the northern city of Novi Sad and other locations to block main bridges and roads for one hour in what organizers described as a warning blockade. They pledged further protests if the laws on property expropriation and referendum weren’t withdrawn.Police officers blocked the demonstrators from reaching the bridges, which led to skirmishes as police helicopters flew overhead. The protesters then marched around while managing to stop traffic at a key bridge in Belgrade and in various central streets. Organizers said a number of people have been detained. Police earlier have warned that any blockade of bridges is illegal. A number of environmental groups and civil society organizations are angry that the authorities have lowered the referendum threshold and allowed for swift expropriation of private property if deemed to be in the public interest. Activists argue this will pave the way for foreign companies to circumvent popular discontent over projects such as the bid by the Rio Tinto company to launch a lithium mine in western Serbia. Serbia’s authorities have rejected the accusations, saying the new laws are needed because of infrastructure projects. The country’s autocratic president, Aleksandar Vucic said a referendum will be organized on the Rio Tinto mine. Environmental issues recently have drawn public attention as local activists accuse the populist government of allowing for the devastation of nature for profit. Experts have warned that the planned lithium mine in western Serbia would destroy farmland and pollute the waters. Following decades of neglect, Serbia has faced major environmental problems such as air and water pollution, poor waste management and other issues. Serbia is a candidate nation for European Union entry, but little so far has been achieved with regards to improving the country’s environmental situation. Protesters on Saturday blew whistles during the blockade and chanted “We won’t give up Serbia.” Huge columns of cars and other vehicles formed at several locations as the demonstrators allowed only the emergency services to pass. More

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    Omicron variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to trigger major new Covid wave in UK, saysvaccine expert

    A vaccine expert says it is “extremely unlikely” that the new Omicron variant will trigger a major new wave of the Covid pandemic in the UK, despite the sudden return of travel restrictions.Professor Andrew Pollard revealed his “optimism” that current vaccines will continue to prevent serious disease – and suggested Omicron will not outrun the dominant Delta variant in Europe.Alarm over Omicron has seen the UK impose flight bans on countries across southern Africa, where it was discovered, and warnings that domestic restrictions may be need to be reimposed.Prof Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said it is “too early” to be certain whether the new variant will be able to evade current vaccinations, something unlikely to be known for 2-3 weeks.But he said most of the mutations in Omicron are in the same parts of the spike protein as those in the other variants that have emerged.“That tells you that, despite those mutations existing in other variants, the vaccines have continued to prevent serious disease as we’ve moved through Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta,” he said.“At least from a speculative point of view we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for serious disease, but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.“It’s extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen.”Prof Pollard also reassured people that the process for developing a new vaccine – if needed – is “increasingly well oiled”.“That is something that could be moved very rapidly,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.He also cast doubt on whether Omicron would overtake the Delta variant in Europe which, unlike South Africa, has a highly-vaccinated population.“Delta is already pretty good, it’s spreading like wildfire across Europe,” Prof Pollard said.But Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Sage advisory group, called for the return of compulsory mask-wearing in crowded settings now, questioning why it was ever lifted.“I think we need to prepare, we need to run through our options. And the government needs to be prepared to act fast,” he told Times Radio.“And, unfortunately, the lessons that we’ve learned throughout this epidemic is you have to act harder than you’d like to, wider than you like to, and faster than you’d like to.”On Friday the health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government’s ‘plan B – mask-wearing, vaccine passports and working from home – would not be introduced, but told MPs: “If we need to go further, we will.”He spoke as the UK saw 50,091 daily Covid cases – the highest level in a month – and 160 further deaths and as scientists said it was highly likely that Omicron will come to the UK. More

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    ‘I don’t believe it’: Anger as Nadine Dorries dismisses MP’s allegation of groping by Boris Johnson’s father

    Nadine Dorries says she does not believe a fellow Conservative MP’s allegation that she was groped by Boris Johnson’s father, sparking anger.Caroline Nokes has accused Stanley Johnson of smacking her on the backside – one of two allegations against him of inappropriate touching, prompting Labour to demand an investigation.But, asked about Ms Nokes’ allegation, Ms Dorries told a Daily Mail interviewer: “I don’t believe it happened.”The culture secretary said: “I have known Stanley for 15 years. He is a gentleman. It never happened to me. Maybe there is something wrong with me.”Ms Nokes criticised Ms Dorries for having “used her considerable influence and power in the media to denounce me in this way”.“I very much hope her attitude does not deter other women from being brave enough to report their experiences of public sexual harassment,” the former home office minister said.Ms Nokes has already accused some journalists of trawling through her sexual history to “find some sort of defence” for Mr Johnson’s alleged behaviour, when they were both parliamentary candidates in 2003.Her allegation prompted Ailbhe Rea, a New Statesman journalist, to accuse Mr Johnson of groping her at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in 2019.The 81-year-old has said he had no recollection of either Ms Nokes or the allegation – while the prime minister has ducked calls for an investigation by the party.Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence, also criticised the culture secretary, saying: “I’m not entirely sure why she thinks Caroline would lie. Where’s the benefit?”She said it is a “common mistake” for people to refuse to believe that friends or acquaintances cannot carry out sexual harassment or violence.“It’s the thing that silences victims. It reminds them to shut up about their experiences, “ Ms Phillips said, adding: “I expected better from Nadine. I’m not surprised though, it’s the most common response to disbelieve.”After revealing the alleged incident, Ms Nokes told Times Radio: “Even 18 years later, you can see people trying to turn it back on me, victim-blaming and shaming.”But she praised Mark Spencer, the government chief whip, for having been “very supportive and very helpful”.In the interview, Ms Dorries said she had never experienced men being “handsy”, replying: “But if you ask me have I experienced mansplaining, being talked down to because I am a woman, yes and yes.”She said she did suffer the sort of abuse “that puts things in perspective”, from a vicar, who was a family friend, when she was nine. It was never reported to the police because “you couldn’t then”. More

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    Security minister criticises French claim it’s too ‘difficult’ to patrol long coastline for refugee boats

    France cannot use the excuse that it is “difficult” to police “hundreds of miles of coastline” to duck tougher action to stop refugee boats leaving for the UK, a minister has said.Damian Hinds, the security minister, again urged Emmanuel Macron to accept a UK plan to curb the crossings, insisting Boris Johnson wants to be “supportive and collaborative”.The plan sparked fury in Paris because it proposes that France takes back migrants that arrive in the UK and because a letter was made public – prompting the exclusion of Priti Patel from a multi-country meeting tomorrow.Mr Hinds sought to calm tensions, arguing the UK is not proposing “breaching sovereignty” by stationing its officials on French soil, another idea rejected by Mr Macron.Insisting the “partnership is strong”, he said: “The tone of the letter is exceptionally supportive and collaborative, it absolutely acknowledges everything the French government and authorities have been doing.”But the minister rejected the claim, made by the mayor of Calais among others, that it is impossible to stop every boat – able to be launched in just 10 minutes – leaving a coastline 200-300 miles long.France wants the UK to process asylum claims on its side of the Channel, to prevent attempts at the deadly crossing, but the UK argues that will simply increase the number of migrants and refugees.Mr Hinds acknowledged the policing task is “immense”, but said: “We can’t just say it’s difficult because it’s hundreds of miles of coastline – we have to do what’s necessary to save human life.”Charities have backed the French argument that stronger policing and security cannot solve the issue of refugees risking their life to reach the UK, after 27 died on Wednesday.Patrols have already been stepped up sharply in recent months, with more than 600 police officers working 24 hours a day, Paris says, using new surveillance equipment – some funded by the UK.Asylum seekers sleeping rough are also increasingly moved on, with tents and sleeping bags confiscated and camps broken up.But Mr Hinds repeated that the UK has no regrets about publishing the letter to Mr Macron, despite the diplomatic spat and the loss of the opportunity for Ms Patel to join face-to-face talks.Mr Johnson’s plan would see the immediate return of people crossing the Channel in return for Britain accepting unaccompanied children with links to this country.France is open to an EU-wide returns agreement, but only if the UK agrees to process asylum claims of refugees and migrants wanting to enter Britain while they are still in France.On Friday, Mr Macron accused Mr Johnson of “double talk” and of attempting the “outsourcing of problems”, describing the proposals as “mediocre”.But Mr Hinds told BBC Radio 4: “Now, particularly prompted by this awful tragedy, we have to go further, we have to deepen our partnership, we have to broaden what we do, we have to draw up new creative solutions.” More