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Top Stories: UK Could Ease Sanctions on Syria To Allow Aid Through, Secret Cross-Party Brexit Summit

UK specialists are involved in search and rescue operations in Turkey and Syria (Alamy)

6 min read

Development minister Andrew Mitchell has suggested sanctions on Syria could be eased if needed to get aid to survivors of the devastating earthquake.

The death toll of the earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey last week is expected to hit 50,000, with the United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths describing it as “the worst natural disaster that I've ever seen”. 

Syria has been under tough sanctions by the UK and other western nations due to the activities of dictator President Assad, including violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protests, which have since sparked a civil war in the country. 

Speaking to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, Mitchell said the UK government “will do everything we can to ensure that aid gets through to the suffering”.

“Where sanctions would hold us back in any way we would seek to have them lifted,” he added. 

"But at the moment, we are able to get what we want through and that's the key thing.”

The UK government has sent specialists to aid the recovery of survivors in Turkey and Syria, a feat which Mitchell described as easier in Turkey where there is an “organised” response, compared to the “ungoverned space” of Syria.

Mitchell also told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the international community had “learned the lesson” from the Haiti earthquake in 2010, when an uncoordinated international response left many victims without the support they needed.

“One of the heartening things is that lessons have been learned from what happened in Haiti when the whole thing was a disaster, reinforced by the fact that there was no proper coordination and the international community piled in,” he said. 

The minister said the UK’s budget was under “considerable stress” but that the country was still spending “a lot of money” on international aid – estimated to be around £7bn for the 2022-23 financial year.

BBC chair made “significant errors of judgment” over Boris Johnson loan

Richard Sharp and Boris Johnson
BBC Chairman Richard Sharp was grilled by the DCMS committee on his role facilitating a loan for the former prime minister (Alamy)

BBC Chair Richard Sharp made "significant errors of judgement" over his role in the facilitation of a loan to former prime minister Boris Johnson, MPs on the DCMS committee have concluded, in a report which calls on him to "consider the potential damage to trust" in the corporation caused by the affair.

In January the Sunday Times reported that Sharp helped Johnson secure an £800,000 loan weeks before he was announced as BBC chairman, by connecting cabinet secretary Simon Case with Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman and distant cousin of the then-PM. 

In a report, published today, the DCMS Committee says that Sharp's failure to inform MPs of his involvement in the loan meant they were left without the full facts to make a judgement on his suitability when he appeared before them for a pre-appointment hearing in 2021.

Acting chair of the committee, Damian Green MP said: “The public appointments process can only work effectively if everyone is open and transparent, yet Richard Sharp chose not to tell either the appointment panel or our Committee about his involvement in the facilitation of a loan to Boris Johnson.

"Such a significant error of judgment meant we were not in the full possession of the facts when we were required to rule on his suitability for the role of BBC Chair.”

A spokesperson for Sharp said: “Mr Sharp appreciates that there was information that the Committee felt that it should have been made aware of in his pre-appointment hearing. He regrets this and apologises."

Government minister Andrew Mitchell told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge that it was right an investigation on behalf of the commissioner for public standards would be carried out by the “appropriate” person, after William Shawcross recused himself over previous meetings with Sharp. 

Leading politicians held secret Brexit summit

EU flag outside UK parliament
A cross-party summit was held in Oxfordshire to discuss the outcomes of Brexit (Alamy)

Leading Brexiters and remainers held a two-day private summit to discuss the failings of Brexit, according to the Guardian.

The cross-party summit, which including politicians and diplomats on both sides of the Brexit debate, was held in Oxfordshire and also invited large businesses and banks to address how leaving the European Union in January 2020 has affected the UK’s economy. 

Attendees included Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove – one of the strongest advocates for the ‘Leave’ campaign – and Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, who was staunchly pro-Remain.

The summit explored the issue of whether the UK had failed to find a way forward in international trade and relations outside the EU, and whether Brexit has acted as a “drag on our growth”.

A source in attendance told the Guardian: “The main thrust of it was that Britain is losing out, that Brexit is not delivering, our economy is in a weak position.”

Labour to publish files accusing government reps of lavish spending

posh hotel in Germany
The 'GPC Files' will show government officials spending large sums of money on luxury hotels (Alamy)

Labour will launch a campaign on Monday accusing government ministers and officials of using public money “like a cash machine” and spending on luxury purchases such as hotels and chauffeurs.

The party’s findings are called the ‘GPC Files’, referring to the use of government procurement cards (GPCs) by officials, and will be published on a dedicated website on Monday.

Since former party chairman Nadhim Zahawi was sacked for breaching the ministerial code over his tax affairs, the Conservative government has been under renewed scrutiny over the behaviour of its ministers and its management of public finances.

The ‘GPC Files’ will show that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stayed in a five-star hotel when attending the 2021 G20 meeting when he was chancellor, as well as revealing the spending figures behind trips undertaken by many other government ministers. 

Meanwhile, former Labour MP Jared O’Mara was this week sentenced to four years in prison for making fraudulent expense claims to fund his addiction to cocaine and alcohol.

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