Tuesday briefing: Threats halt Brexit checks at Northern Ireland ports |

Top story: Irish Sea border ‘hugely sensitive’

Hello, Warren Murray setting you up to prevail this Tuesday.

Northern Ireland’s government has suspended Brexit checks on animal and food products arriving into Belfast and Larne ports after “sinister and menacing behaviour” towards staff led to fears for their safety. Since checks were introduced on goods from Great Britain, tensions have surfaced in loyalist communities – graffiti has appeared on a wall near Larne port that warned all border officials were targets. Other graffiti has threatened Leo Varadkar, the former Republic of Ireland taoiseach.

Mid and East Antrim council on Monday night removed 12 of its staff at Larne port with immediate effect. One diplomatic source told the Guardian: “Where is the flexibility and the creative solutions that the EU called for during the Brexit negotiations? Every day there are new twists and complications and these are touching the notions of identity and sovereignty, which are hugely sensitive and were the cause of past conflicts.”


Blitz on South African Covid – Tens of thousands of people will be tested door to door in a “two-week sprint” to halt the spread of the South African coronavirus variant. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has ordered testing of around 80,000 residents in postcode areas from Surrey to Lancashire where cases were found that did not originate from travel. Labour has said it bolsters the argument for closing UK borders and enforcing hotel quarantine for arrivals. Universities in England are to be given an additional £50m by the government to support students struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. There have been rent strikes and protests by students, many of whom paid for accommodation they could not use after being told to study online from home. And a study of welfare reforms in countries including the UK, the US and Canada has found that cutting benefits such as universal credit has a detrimental effect on mental health, particularly for the groups hit hardest by the pandemic. Making benefits more generous was associated with positive mental health outcomes.


Myanmar crisis – The military appears in firm control of Myanmar one day after launching a coup and detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other lawmakers. There has been widespread international condemnation with the US president, Joe Biden, threatening sanctions and calling for governments to press for the military to release detainees. The UN security council will discuss the matter today. Hundreds of members of Myanmar’s parliament remain confined inside their government housing in the capital, according to reports by Associated Press. The military has claimed its actions are in line with Myanmar’s constitution but has offered little response to the flood of foreign criticism.


Natural failings of economics – The world is being put at “extreme risk” by the failure of economics to take account of the rapid depletion of the natural world, a landmark review for the UK Treasury concludes. Radical global changes to production, consumption, finance and education are urgently needed to alleviate the “devastating cost” to ecosystems that provide food, water and clean air, writes the review’s author, Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University. He urges the world’s governments to come up with a different form of national accounting from GDP to include depletion of natural resources. The report says almost all governments are actually paying people more to exploit nature than to protect it, with subsidies costing £2.9-£4.4tn a year. In a foreword, Sir David Attenborough writes: “If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk.”


‘What many animals have’ – The Conservative former immigration minister Caroline Nokes has accused the Home Office of using barracks to accommodate asylum seekers so Britain appears to them “as difficult and inhospitable as possible”. She is among backbench Tory MPs with barracks in their constituencies who have raised concerns. There is growing concern about conditions, with occupants saying they are freezing cold and filthy, while there have been Covid outbreaks, hunger strikes and suicide attempts.

Images from Napier barracks, one of the sites used to house asylum seekers
Images from Napier barracks, one of the sites used to house asylum seekers. Composite: Jamie Grierson/Getty Images

At least five legal challenges are under way: two relating to Penally barracks in Wales, two about Napier barracks in Folkestone, and one about Yarl’s Wood. “We as a nation can do better than this,” said Nokes. The immigration compliance minister, Chris Philp, said: “These sites were previously used to house military personnel – to suggest they are not good enough for asylum seekers is an insult.” Matin, 26, from Iran, said of the Napier barracks: “It’s true we have a roof above our heads … but this is what many animals have.”


Dead man ‘tied to sunken yacht’ – Greek authorities have launched an investigation into the “perplexing” death of a man described locally as an “eccentric Englishman” whose body was found reportedly tied to the deck of a partially sunken luxury yacht off Crete. The 74-year-old was identified as Hugh Kerr Bradley Roberts, who retired to the island more than a decade ago and also had a villa on shore. Crew on a fishing boat alerted the authorities after spotting the wreck with Roberts’ frightened dog, Tuck, scrabbling to stay on the part of the deck still above water. Roberts had reported being the victim of a robbery on board the yacht two years ago during which his assailants left him tied up inside. Foul play has not been ruled out – “nothing can be excluded at this stage”, said one coastguard official.


Well travelled – From majestic landscapes, intimate animal portraits and intriguing night-time views beneath the ocean’s surface, to glimpses of cultures across the world, the winning images from Travel Photographer of the Year 2020 present a view of life on our planet at a time in which travel has been difficult or impossible.

Overall winner: Vladimir Alekseev, Yamal Peninsula, Russia
Overall winner: Vladimir Alekseev, Yamal Peninsula, Russia. Photograph: Vladimir Alekseev/TPOTY 2020

The winning images will go on display in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, London, in May and in other TPOTY exhibitions, including Chester Cathedral, during 2021.

Today in Focus podcast: A Covid case every six seconds

Sam Levin visits Martin Luther King Jr community hospital in Los Angeles county, an area battling one of the worst Covid outbreaks in the US.

Today in Focus

A Covid case every six seconds

Lunchtime read: Sky pools, penthouses and poor doors

Few places have seen such turbocharged luxury development as Nine Elms on the London riverside. So why are prices tumbling, investors melting away and promises turning to dust?

Visualisation of the suspended Embassy Garden sky pool
Visualisation of the suspended Embassy Garden sky pool. Photograph: Ballymore/Rex/Shutterstock

Sport

Liverpool bolstered Jürgen Klopp’s central defensive options on deadline day with the signings of Ozan Kabak from Schalke and Ben Davies from Preston only to lose Joël Matip for the rest of the season with an ankle ligament injury. The murky world of professional boxing is under fresh scrutiny as a BBC Panorama investigation claims to have found clear evidence that “a suspected organised crime boss is still working at the top of world boxing”. The India v England Test series could be free-to-air on Channel 4 and help make up for the failure to capitalise on the gospel of 2005. England’s second Test in India is likely to be their first game in front of spectators for more than a year, with new guidelines covering sporting events in India opening the possibility of the 50,000-capacity MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai being half full.

The Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, has written to his players promising to increase funding to efforts to stamp out discrimination after a spate of incidents of online abuse over the last week. Juan Manuel Correa announced his return to racing after recovering from the severe leg injuries he sustained in the 2019 Formula Two crash in which Anthoine Hubert died. And Tom Brady is getting ready for his 10th Super Bowl appearance and there may be a few more to come, with the quarterback saying he is open to playing beyond the age of 45.

Business

Asia-Pacific markets have extended gains on increased optimism about stimulus packages and global economic recovery, while retail investors retreated from GameStop and their new-found interest in silver. A key gauge of Asia-Pacific stocks outside Japan was up 1.25% mid-morning. The Hang Seng, China’s CSI300, Japan’s Nikkei 225, Australia and South Korea’s Kospi have gained. The FTSE looks like opening in the order of 40 points higher. The pound is worth $1.368 and €1.133 at time of writing.

The papers

South Africa variant cases trigger ‘sprint’ to curb spread in Britain” – the Guardian’s lead story for Tuesday. Our front page also covers reaction to the military coup in Myanmar. The Mirror says “Hunt on to stop South Africa bug” – the Metro has “Test blitz on mutant virus”.

Guardian front page, Tuesday 2 February 2021
Guardian front page, Tuesday 2 February 2021.

“Race to trace mutant strain” says the Mail and the Times reports that “Sage warned No 10 over mutant virus weeks ago”. The Telegraph says “PM pushes to reopen schools as cases fall”. The Sun mixes together lower Covid case rates, vaccination statistics and the South African variant to come up with “The good, the jab and the ugly” – it also covers Rita Ora turning up in a quarantine hotel in Australia closely tailed by her lockdown birthday party disgrace.

The i has “Vaccine gets boost to beat new strain”, which is about how second doses will likely be “tweaked” by the time people get them. The shameless vaccine nationalists at the Express say “What a result! British vaccines lined up until 2025”. The FT offers a diversion: “Trading frenzy forces Robinhood to raise $2.4bn in fresh injection” – something to do with something called GameStop – and also tells of George Osborne’s full-time move into banking.

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