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Labour have hit out at the decision to merge the UK’s aid programe into the Foreign Office (PA)


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Labour have claimed the costs associated with scrapping the Department of International Development could have funded 2,000 new nurses.

Shadow international development secretary Preet Kaur Gill has hit out at Boris Johnson’s plans to merge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development (DFID), saying the move will pose a “serious risk” to the lives to people living in the UK and abroad.

In June, the Prime Minister said the new Foreign Commonwealth and Devlopment Office would give Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab control over the UK’s £14bn-a-year aid budget, allowing him to “maximise British influence” around the world.

Announcing the new department, Mr Johnson said: “This is exactly the moment when we must mobilise every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas.

“And the best possible instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead.”

But pointing to analysis conducted by the Institute for Government, Labour said the cost to the taxpayer would reach at least £50m, money which the party said would be better spent on prioritising healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the think tank, the direct cost of creating a new department can total around £15m, with further costs of around £34m due to a lack of staff productivity as they “adjust to the new organisation”.

Labour said the £50m bill could instead be have been used to cover the salaries of 2,000 qualified nurses or to purchase 8.3m coronavirus antibody tests.

“The Government should be completely focused on getting on with its job of governing the country and steering us through the huge challenges we face,” Ms Kaur Gill said.

“Getting rid of an independent Department for International Development during a global pandemic is irresponsible, counter-productive and wrong.

“It is consistently rated as the most effective and transparent department at delivering real value for money for British taxpayers, whereas the Foreign Office routinely ranks far worse.

“At a time when we need the global health expertise to drive the global response to Covid-19 and avoid further deadly waves, abolishing the department will undoubtedly put the lives of people here in the UK and those abroad at serious risk.”

The comments come after a wave of criticism from MPs and charities over the move, including from former Conservative DFID secretary Andrew Mitchell, who described the plans as an “act of vandalism”.

Last month, a report from the cross-party International Development Committee, which scrutinises the work of the department, said the “impulsive” merger decision would be disruptive and lead to a lack of expertise.

The Labour chair of the committee, Sarah Champion, said the plan would leave the UK’s international reputation “damaged beyond repair”.

“It is deeply disappointing that the government failed to recognize these strengths as it made its impulsive move to have the FCO swallow up DFID,” she said.

“Now we are on the brink of this expertise being lost and our international reputation being damaged beyond repair.”

The Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been approached for comment.

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A Former Government Minister Is Leading Calls By Tory MPs For Boris Johnson Not To Put The Country Back Into Lockdown

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5 min read

The former minister Simon Clarke is leading calls by Tory MPs for the country not to be put back into a full lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Middlesborough MP made a “plea for proportionality” to Matt Hancock in his first contribution to the Commons since standing down as a local government minister earlier this month.

Speaking to PoliticsHome he said: “I’ve seen constituents commit suicide during the first lockdown. When you get those emails it’s quite sobering about the human cost about what it is that we’re demanding of people.

“And it made me reflect that we should lever do so lightly, and that frankly if there are intervening measures before we get to those – then I would strongly hope we would exhaust all of them.”

Speaking ahead of a statement by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, where he is expected to introduce tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Clarke warned: “there are very, very significant economic tradeoffs” to such measures.

He is calling for a “graduated tradeoff” of freedom “rather than fire off all our artillery now”, adding it will be “a very long winter if we moved into lockdown now”.

Although he is in favour of local lockdowns he added: “But I just think a suite of national measures which set the economy even further back, and really do impose massive restrictions on people’s quality of life, are to be avoided as such time as they are totally unavoidable.”

Mr Clarke urged his former colleagues to “maintain fundamental liberty for people at this stage of autumn” after suggestions it may take six months to tackle the virus.

With the ‘rule of six’ only recently introduced he called for “other rules kick in before preventing households to mix”, saying “things which cut across basic human freedoms and basic human needs are to be avoided until they are an absolute last-ditch option”.

A growing number of Tory MPs have also expressed concern over what they see as a growing lack of parliamentary scrutiny over Coronavirus legislation. 

Peter Bone MP told PoliticsHome: “I think there’s a growing number of MPs who think you shouldn’t be making these significant regulations without parliamentary approval.”

He said the powers were handed over via emergency legislation but it was when there wasn’t “a functioning Parliament”, at the time, and MPs should not get a chicane to defat, amend and vote on them.

As an example he said the “rule of six” would likely have still been passed, but perhaps amended not to include children or a month-long sunset clause.

Asked whether Number 10 had been ignoring its own MPs, Mr Bone said: “Well I think they get used to it, they got used to in an emergency just doing it ,and they’ve continued. There is a drift within government to a more presidential type of government.

Clarke’s call to avoid lockdown was backed up in the Commons by the ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling, who said he did not believe there is a case for a new national lockdown.

He told the Commons: “Given the huge consequences of this virus for people in our communities on their mental health, particularly the younger generation who are paying a very heavy price, can I say to him that given those regional variations – and in the full knowledge of all the pressures that he is facing – I do not believe the case for further national measures has yet been made.”

Mr Hancock replied: “He’s absolutely right that there are some parts of the country where the number of cases is still thankfully very low and so the balance between what we do nationally and what we do locally is as important as the balance in terms of what we do overall.”

Another former minister – Sir Edward Leigh – said public consent for lockdowns is “draining away”.

Addressing the House of Commons, he said: “The trouble with authoritarianism is that’s profoundly inimical to civil liberties, it is also increasingly incompetent, it relies on acquiescence and acquiescence for lockdowns, particularly national ones, is draining away.

“If you tell a student not to go to a pub, they will congregate in rooms, even worse.”

Mr Hancock said in his reply: “As a Conservative, I believe in as much freedom as possible consistent with not harming others.”

But fellow Tory MP Pauline Latham called for more Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions, saying: “Could I remind the Secretary of State, I think he’ll be going to a Cobra meeting tomorrow, could he explain to the Prime Minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Yes, there absolutely will be a debate in this House on the measures… that we have to use. We do have to move very fast.”

The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, then asked the minister if: “Balancing the measures to tackle Covid with the other health consequences such as cancer patients going undiagnosed or not treated in time and the economic and social consequences is a political judgment?”

He added: “And does he further agree with me that political judgments are improved by debate and scrutiny?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Yes I do and I do come to this despatch box as often as possible. I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to come on Friday for Friday’s decision but the House wasn’t sitting.”

He added: “The more scrutiny the better is my attitude.”

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GE: Industrial giant will stop building coal-fired power plants

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In a dramatic reversal, one of the world’s biggest makers of coal-fired power plants is to exit the market and focus on greener alternatives.

US industrial giant General Electric said it would shut or sell sites as it prioritised its renewable energy and power generation businesses.

It comes ahead of a US Presidential election in which the candidates hold starkly different views on coal.

NGO the Natural Resources Defense Council said the move was “about time”.

GE has said in the past it would focus less on fossil fuels, reflecting the growing acceptance of cleaner energy sources in US power grids.

But just five years ago, it struck its biggest ever deal – paying almost £10bn for a business that produced coal-fuelled turbines.

‘Attractive economics’

In a statement, the firm suggested the decision had been motivated by economics.

Russell Stokes, GE’s senior vice president, said: “With the continued transformation of GE, we are focused on power generation businesses that have attractive economics and a growth trajectory.

“As we pursue this exit from the new build coal power market, we will continue to support our customers, helping them to keep their existing plants running in a cost-effective and efficient way with best-in-class technology and service expertise.”

US President Donald Trump has championed “beautiful, clean coal” at a time when other developed countries are turning away from polluting fossil fuels.

In a bid to revive the struggling US industry, Mr Trump has rolled back Obama-era standards on coal emissions. But it has not stopped the decline as cheaper alternatives such as natural gas, solar and wind gain market share.

GE said it would continue to service existing coal power plants, but warned jobs could be lost as a result of its decision.

The firm is already cutting up to 13,000 job cuts at GE Aviation, which makes jet engines, due to the pandemic.

In a tweet, the Natural Resources Defense Council said: “Communities and organizers have been calling on GE to get out of coal for years. This is an important and long overdue step in the right direction to protect communities’ health and the environment.”

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China’s Xinjiang government confirms huge birth rate drop but denies forced sterilization of women

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The Xinjiang government sent CNN the six-page fax in response to questions for an article published in July that documented a campaign of abuse and control by Beijing targeting women from the Uyghur minority, a Muslim ethnic group numbering more than 10 million people. The fax didn’t arrive until September 1, a month after the story was published.

But CNN’s reporting found that some Uyghur women were being forced to use birth control and undergo sterilization as part of a deliberate attempt to push down birth rates among minorities in Xinjiang.

The article was based on a report by Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation known for his research on Xinjiang, who quoted official Chinese documents showing a surge in the number of sterilizations performed in the region — from fewer than 50 per 100,000 people in 2016 to almost 250 per 100,000 people in 2018.
Zenz said that these actions fell under the United Nations definition of “genocide” specifically “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

In its response, the Xinjiang government strongly denied the claims of genocide, arguing instead that the Uyghur population has been “growing continuously” during the past decade and that Zenz’s report was not “in line with the real situation in Xinjiang.”

According to the government, the population of Xinjiang rose by more than 3 million people, or almost 14%, between 2010 and 2018, with the Uyghur population growing faster than the region’s average rate.

“The rights and interests of Uyghur and other ethnic minorities have been fully protected,” the response said. “The so-called ‘genocide’ is pure nonsense.”

Birth rate plunges

But the government didn’t dispute the rise in sterilizations or the gap in the ratio of new intrauterine devices (IUDs) between Xinjiang and the rest of mainland China. While IUD implants have plunged in China overall, falling to just 21 per 100,000 people in 2018, in Xinjiang they are becoming increasingly common.

According to local government statistics, there were almost 1,000 new IUD implants per 100,000 people in Xinjiang in 2018, or 80% of China’s total for that year.

The Xinjiang government said in its response that the birth rate in the region had dropped from 15.88 per 1,000 people in 2017 to 10.69 per 1,000 people in 2018. The fax said that the drop was due to “the comprehensive implementation of the family planning policy.”

Up until 2015, the Chinese government enforced a “one-child” family planning policy countrywide, which allowed most urban couples no more than one baby. Ethnic minorities, such as the Uyghur people, were typically allowed to have up to three but Xinjiang expert Zenz said that families from these groups often had many more children.
When China officially began the two-child policy in January 2016, Uyghur citizens living in cities were limited to two children for the first time as well — their rural counterparts could still have up to three.

The Xinjiang government attributed the sudden drop in population to Beijing’s family planning policies finally being properly implemented in the region after 2017.

“In 2018, the number of newborns decreased by approximately 120,000 compared with 2017, of which about 80,000 were because of better implementation of family planning policy in accordance with law, according to estimates by the health and statistics department,” the response to CNN said. The government insisted that those who complied with the family planning policies did so voluntarily.

The government attributed the remaining 40,000 fewer babies to increased education and economic development, resulting in fewer children in the region. The Xinjiang government did not include the 2019 birth figures for the region.

“As a part of China, Xinjiang implements family planning policies in accordance with national laws and regulations, and has never formulated and implemented family planning policies for a single ethnic minority,” the response said.

But Zenz pointed out that changes to the natural birth rate should take place over several years or even a decade, not in the space of 12 to 36 months.

In reference to the government’s claims that compliance with the family planning policies were voluntary, Zenz questioned how likely it was that “17 times more women spontaneously wanted to be sterilized.”

“Han Chinese academics from Xinjiang have themselves written that the Uyghurs resist any type of contraceptive (and especially sterilization),” he said in a statement to CNN.

In their fax, the Xinjiang government also attacked Zenz personally, saying that he was “deliberately fabricating lies” and accused him of being a religious fanatic who believed he was “led by God” to oppose China.

Zenz dismissed the Chinese government’s allegations, saying they were “resorting to personal attacks” because they couldn’t disprove his research. “Far more egregious than these personal attacks on me are Beijing’s smears against the Uyghur witnesses,” he said in a statement.

Attacks on women

The Xinjiang government also zeroed in on claims made by two female Uyghurs quoted in CNN’s article — Zumrat Dawut and Gulbakhar Jalilova.

Dawut said she had been forced into sterilization by the local government in Xinjiang when she went to a government office to pay a fine for having one too many children. Dawut also said she had been in a detention center in Xinjiang for about three months from March 2018.

In their response, the government said that Dawut had never been inside a voluntary “education and training center,” the name used by the Chinese government for the alleged detention centers, and that she had signed a form agreeing to the procedure known as tubal ligation.

In CNN’s article, Jalilova, who is a citizen of Kazakhstan and an ethnic Uyghur, said she was held in a detention center for 15 months after being arrested suddenly and without explanation during a business trip to Xinjiang in May 2017.

Jalilova claimed she suffered humiliation and torture while inside the camps and said she was raped by one of the guards.

Uyghur exile Gulbakhar Jalilova who says she suffered sexual abuse while she was held in detention centers in Xinjiang.

The Xinjiang government confirmed Jalilova’s claims that she had been detained for 15 months from May 2017, alleging she was arrested “on suspicion of aiding terrorist activities.” In August 2018 she was released on bail, after which she returned to Kazakhstan.

In their statement, the government denied that Jalilova had been raped or tortured, saying that all of her “rights were fully guaranteed” and the staff who were in her cell could prove it.

When asked to respond to the Chinese government’s statement, Jalilova stood by her claims and demanded the Xinjiang authorities provide their proof. “Why don’t they show a video? Why don’t they show a photo during my time in prison showing that I was well fed and not beaten. The cameras were working 24 hours,” she said.

“I am a citizen of Kazakhstan, what right did they have to detain me for a year and a half?”

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