Dominic Cummings row: Statement made things even WORSE for Boris’ chief adviser – poll

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Boris Johnson’s special adviser is under pressure after details of his 260-mile trip to Durham emerged last week, at a time when Britons were being told to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19. The survey, published by YouGov today, suggested 71 percent of interviewees believed Mr Cummings had broken the rules, up three points compared with a similar poll released on Saturday. Additionally, 59 percent of people now believe Mr Cummings should resign, up seven percent on the 52 percent who felt he should quit before he spoke in the rose garden of Number 10 yesterday.

In addition to 88 percent of Labour voters and 86 percent of Lib Dems, the majority of Tories – 56 percent – now believe Mr Cummings should leave his post.

Remain voters emphatically agree, with 81 percent saying he should go – but a solid majority of Leave votes – 63 percent – agree.

The second survey involved 1160 UK adults interviewed on May 25 and 26, all of them once Mr Cummings had stopped speaking.

Chris Curtis, Political Research Manager at YouGov, said: “If Downing Street was hoping Cummings’ statement would turn public opinion then it’s fair to say it’s not worked.

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Only time will tell though if this row starts to hurt the government electorally but if it does the pressure is only going to mount from Tory MPs for Cummings to go

Chris Curtis

“Over the weekend the public told us they thought that Cummings was both in breach of lockdown rules and should resign and despite a lengthy press conference and a detailed statement the public haven’t changed their mind.

“Only time will tell though if this row starts to hurt the government electorally but if it does the pressure is only going to mount from Tory MPs for Cummings to go.”

The fallout from Mr Cummings’ lockdown trip continues to overshadow the Government’s agenda.

Junior Scottish minister Douglas Ross today resigned from the Government, saying: “I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the Government.

“I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the Government was right.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Mark Harper said Dominic Cummings “should have offered to resign, and the Prime Minister should have accepted his resignation”.

He added: “As for Mr Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle on 12 April, an apology should have been made and a level of regret expressed.

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“I was disappointed that Mr Cummings did neither.”

Speaking to Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said his own postbag showed “many people still disagree” with the actions of Dominic Cummings.

He said: “I think people can understand the interests he had at heart, which were to protect his sick wife and his young child – and can at least understand now why he made those decisions.”

Pressed on whether further ministers would resign or whether Mr Cummings would survive in post, Mr Jenrick replied: “I don’t know.”

Downing Street has also been unable to explain why it said in a statement on Saturday that Dominic Cummings’ wife had been infected with suspected coronavirus, which the aide later contradicted.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “He set out his account of what had happened yesterday.

“I think it was a very full and detailed account and there’s nothing for me to add to it.”

The spokesman also defended having previously told journalists Dominic Cummings was isolating at home during the lockdown, saying he had not known of his actual location at the time but had been pointing out he was not working at Number 10.

Asked if he meant Mr Cummings was in London, the spokesman said: “No, and the context of my answer was pointing out he wasn’t at work.”

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UK hot weather forecast: Maps turn red-hot as Jet stream to bring highs of 28C by weekend

Across the UK, bank holiday Monday has seen high temperatures and sunny skies, and the mercury is forecast to climb even higher by the end of next week. The Met Office tweeted on Monday: “The #Jetstream will remain across or to the north of the UK this week, leading to largely #dry and #warm weather”.

The forecasters have also warned UV and grass pollen levels will be very high in the coming days, urging those heading outside to use suncream.

Any Britons intending to enjoy the sunshine in the coming week should also adhere to the social distancing guidelines currently in place.

This means staying at least two metres from any other household when outside, avoiding public transport where possible and wearing a mask where confined areas – like shops or transport – are unavoidable.

The impending hot weather is due to an area of high pressure being swept across the UK by the jet stream, and could bring highs of 28C or even higher by Sunday.

Read More: Bank Holiday weather: Charts turn scorching HOT as 27C heatwave hits

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A Met Office forecaster said: “There is high pressure over the UK at the moment which will lead to fine and settled weather this week.

“It is not unusual for high pressure to stick around for a long period of time which explains why May has seen such fine, dry and warm weather, but it does not always happen.

“In terms of forecasting, the weather will be fine warm weather for much of this week, except for rain in the northwest tonight through to tomorrow morning.

“The weather is likely to hit 27C on Tuesday and drop to the mid-twenties throughout the rest of the week before rising to 27C on Friday and Saturday and possibly hitting 28C on Sunday.

“However, those temperatures are contingent on an easterly flow continuing over the UK.”

Maps from the Met Office show highs of 27C reaching Scotland by Friday, and temperatures of 26C in the south the same day.

Netweather forecasts a warm southerly breeze continuing next weekend, bringing the mercury up to the high twenties across the south – where the best of the sunshine will be seen.

Earlier in the week, high pressure will arrive “slap bang on top of the UK on Wednesday” according to Netweather – bringing a dry day with plenty of sunshine for many.

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Conditions will be cloudier across Northern Ireland and northwest Scotland – with rain arriving in the far northwest of Scotland later.

Weather will be very warm across south Wales and southern England – with temperatures reaching 25 to 26C.

Elsewhere across England and Wales temperatures will reach 20 to 24C.

An onshore breeze along North Sea coasts will keep temperatures in the teens.

Met Office Five Day forecast

This Evening and Tonight

Band of cloud and patchy rain sinking south across northern and some central areas, although mostly dry in the east.

Elsewhere there will be clear spells with a few fog patches in the south.

Tuesday

Rather cloudy across central areas with some drizzle and fog near western coasts. Mostly dry with sunny spells elsewhere and warm again in the south.

Outlook for Wednesday to Friday

Some cloud and patchy rain for the far north and northwest Wednesday. Otherwise dry, largely sunny and very warm by day.

Becoming slightly cooler in the east where onshore breezes.

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Dominic Cummings petition: Petition to sack Mr Cummings reaches 226,000 – will he quit?

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Dominic Cummings is at the centre of a national row regarding an alleged breach of coronavirus lockdown rules in March. The PM’s chief aide has been accused of driving from London to County Durham at the height of lockdown restrictions in breach of lockdown rules. But how many believe Mr Cummings should resign and will he quit?

Dominic Cummmings is Boris Johnson’s closest political adviser working in the upper reaches of the Government and Conservative Party for almost 20 years.

Mr Cummings was seen leaving Downing Street on March 27 and three days later was confirmed to be self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms.

But despite the UK being on lockdown, it is claimed Mr Cummings travelled 260 miles from London to Durham between March 27 and 31.

Police in Durham were “made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city” on March 31.

Officers then “made contact with the owners of that address”.

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Mr Cummings claimed and his wife made the trip in order to organise childcare support after the pair displayed COVID-19 symptoms.

According to The Mirror and The Observer, Mr Cummings then visited Barnard Castle, located 30 miles from his parent’s home in Durham.

Members of the public also claimed to have seen him in the county after he had returned to London in mid-April.

Speaking to reporters outside his London home on Saturday, he said he had done the “right thing” by travelling with his wife and young son to be near relatives when she developed coronavirus symptoms at the end of March.

Mr Johnson faced backlash on Sunday for his failure to sack Mr Cummings.

Speaking from Downing Street, the PM said: “I want to begin by answering the big question that people have been asking in the last 48 hours.

“And that is – is this Government asking you – the people, the public, to do one thing while senior people here in government do something else?

“Have we been asking you to make sacrifices, to obey social distancing, to stay at home while some people have been basically flouting those rules and endangering lives?

“And it is because I take this matter so seriously and frankly it is so serious that I can tell you today I have had extensive face to face conversations with Dominic Cummings and I have concluded that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus.

“And when he had no alternative, I think he followed the instincts of every father and every parent. And I do not mark him down for that. And though there have been many other allegations about what happened when he was in self-isolation and thereafter, some of them palpably false.

“I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly, and legally, and with integrity, and with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives.

“And I stress this fundamental aim because it is thanks to this country’s collective resolve in achieving that aim that we continue to make progress.”

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  • Dominic Cummings: How old are Dominic Cummings children?

So far, 15 Tory MPs including Steve Baker, Tim Loughton and Caroline Nokes, have called for Mr Cummings’ resignation.

Former minister Paul Maynard said: “It is a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ – and it is not as if he was unfamiliar with the guidance he himself helped draw up.

“It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable.”

Senior Church of England bishops and a scientist advising the Government on the pandemic have also criticised the Government’s handling of the row.

A frontline cardiology registrar has vowed to resign if the PM’s chief adviser does not resign by the end of the week.

As of 9.10am, more than 226,000 members of the public have signed this online petition calling for Mr Cummings’s resignation.

Writing on the petition, one person wrote: “Thousands of grieving families are not allowed to see hospitalised loved ones before they pass – NO ONE is excused for flouting the law. Especially 10 Downing St!”

Another added: “There’s no justification for travelling 250miles for family support, we all have to rely on local friends and online shops when isolating.”

One person wrote: “It seems to be one rule for us common folk and another for those in Westminster. What happened to lead by example, shocking.”

Bookmakers believe Mr Cummings will retain his current role until at least June 1.

According to Betfair, Dominic Cummings is at 1/2 odds to keep his current job on June 1, while he is at 6/4 odds to lose his position by that date.

Betfair Spokesperson Katie Baylis said: “The controversy around Cummings’ trip to his parents’ house in Durham may be gathering steam, but his odds of exiting his job have swung from odds-on at 4/6 first thing this morning that he would be gone by the end of the month, to odds-on at 1/2 now that he will still be there.

“While there have been calls for Cummings to resign or be sacked, we have seen the opposite when it comes to what punters believe will happen, but this story is sure to develop as the week, and even the day goes on, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see the odds fluctuate.”

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Dominic Cummings wife: Who is Mary Wakefield? How old is their child?

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings travelled 260 miles from London to his family home in County Durham during lockdown. Police have confirmed they attended a property in Durham after it emerged Mr Cummings, stayed with relatives while he and members of his immediate family, including wife Mary Wakefield, were suffering from coronavirus-related symptoms.

The sightings raise questions about the Government’s commitment to the “stay at home” message it was repeating to the public in the first stage of the lockdown.

No 10 has defended the move saying “it was essential for Mr Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.”

Downing Street added Mr Cummings believed he “behaved reasonably and legally” when travelling from his London home to Country Durham during the lockdown”.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.

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“His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed.

“His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside. At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.

“His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”

Members of the cabinet have also lined up to defend the Prime Minister’s top aide.

Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, tweeted: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, also wrote on Twitter: “It’s reasonable and fair to ask for an explanation on this. And it has been provided: two parents with coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child. Those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror.”

Who is Mary Wakefield?

Ms Wakefield is a journalist, columnist and commissioning editor for The Spectator.

She has worked at the weekly magazine The Spectator for decades, since Boris Johnson was editor, and is now commissioning editor, assistant editor from 2001 and deputy editor.

She has also written for The Sun, Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Times.

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Ms Wakefield has written in The Spectator about her experience when both she and Mr Cummings contracted COVID-19

The Prime Minister’s top aide was so badly affected by coronavirus he “should have been in hospital”, his wife has revealed.

Writing in The Spectator, Ms Wakefield described how she was stricken by the disease first and her “kind” husband had rushed home to look after her.

However, she went on, 24 hours later Mr Cummings said he felt “weird” and collapsed.

She wrote: “Day in, day out for 10 days he lay doggo with a high fever and spasms.

“Just as Dom was beginning to feel better … Boris was heading in the other direction, into hospital.”

Ms Wakefield and Mr Cummings married in 2011.

How old is Dominic Cummings’ child?

Mr Cummings and Ms Wakefield’s son, named Alexander Cedd, was born in 2016.

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Brexit warning: Boris ‘won’t hesitate’ to turn back on trade deal ‘EU doesn’t understand!’

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Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party crushed the opposition in December’s general election to secure a huge 80-seat parliamentary majority, enabling him to force his Brexit deal through the House of Commons, something former Prime Minister Theresa May failed to do on three separate occasions. This saw Mr Johnson deliver on his general election pledge to “get Brexit done” on January 31, with negotiations on a trade deal with the European Union beginning in March. But these talks are already on the verge of collapse, with the two sides trading vicious blows and insults since the conclusion of the latest round of virtual talks last Friday (May 15).

The UK and EU are at odds over several aspects of the future relationship, and have blamed each other’s negotiating stance for the lack of progress being made thus far.

David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, has warned the EU and his Brussels counterpart Michel Barnier they will have to change their stance on a number of areas by the next round of virtual talks on June 1.

Even before formal trade negotiations began, Mr Johnson threatened to walk away from the negotiating table if sufficient progress had not been made by June.

John Macdonald, Head of Government Affairs at the Adam Institute think tank, warned this scenario is now becoming more of a reality, and had scathing criticism for the EU.

He told Express.co.uk: “While a trade deal is now even more in both the EU and UK’s interests, the EU appears not to understand (despite how often it has been repeated) that unlike Theresa May, Johnson’s strong Parliamentary majority is staked on his commitment to ‘Get Brexit Done’.

“It is likely he will not hesitate to walk away from the table.

“Johnson and his top team have already shown willingness to walk away should their negotiating principles be violated.

“They refused to cave to pressure to amend their Withdrawal Agreement Bill when the Tories had no working majority, choosing the riskier strategy of pursuing a General Election over sacrificing their principles.”

Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, warned the exploding tensions between the UK and EU will likely see trade deal negotiations collapse because “there is no change in sight to the UK Government’s negotiating approach”.

He told this website: “I think that ‘no deal’ is looking increasingly likely.

“For the free-market Brexit ‘ultras’ in the UK negotiating team, any form of continued regulatory alignment with the EU is anathema to them.

“I think they would prefer no deal to what they regard as continued adherence to Brussels rulings.

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“Given that we have until the end of next month to request an extension to the so-called Transition Period of continued Single Market and Customs Union membership, time is running out, and there is no change in sight to the UK Government’s negotiating approach.”

But while Kostas Maronitis, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Leeds Trinity University, conceded Mr Johnson could still turn his back on a trade deal with the EU, he outlined why the Prime Minister would be wrong to do so.

The political expert said: “Walking away would be wrong for two reasons.

“First, it would indicate a failure of statecraft and lack of political vision.

“Second, the world of trade is completely different to the one when the UK voted to leave the EU.

“The breakdown of relations between US and China and the recession caused by the pandemic do not necessarily provide any sense of safety or normality that the UK could rely on.”

Wyn Grant, Political Scientist and Professor of Politics at the University of Warwick, believes the UK is hoping its threats to pull out of trade talks could see Brussels relent in a number of areas, but he warned this strategy is fraught with danger.

He said: “I think that the UK does intend to walk away in the hope that the EU will offer a deal as the deadline approaches.

“They may do, but it would be a bare-bones deal that avoided the worst disruption.”

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‘Wake up, Boris!’ Nigel Farage rings alarm bell over China as Beijing plots ‘power grab’

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China’s ruling Community Party has moved to introduce a controversial national security law in Hong Kong, which will criminalise “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” against the central government. The law, which looks set to bypass Hong Kong’s lawmakers, would allow Chinese national security to operate in the city “to fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law.” Implementing such a law is seen as a huge blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms and has been interpreted as a move to take full control over the territory.

China has moved to introduce the measures in response to last year’s violent protests.

The law would bar “activities of foreign and external forces” interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Critics have said the national security law, which is likely to pass into law in the coming days, will effectively wipe out the “one country, two systems” framework that gives Hong Kong freedoms not seen elsewhere in China.

Protests have already started to erupt in the city, in response, against what they see erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The US has heavily condemned the move by Beijing, with Donald Trump threatening serious consequences if the legislations is passed.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has also weighed in on the debate and urged the UK Government to intervene.

He wrote on Twitter: “Appalling power grab by China over Hong Kong.

“The USA government objects and ours says nothing.

“About time Huawei-supporting Johnson woke up.”

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President Trump has warned Beijing that Washington would react “very strongly” against an attempt to gain more control over Hong Kong.

The White House accused China of reneging its commitment to keep the city semi-autonomous as the new law would effectively limit opposition activity there.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement: “We urge Beijing to honor its commitments and obligations in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

The declaration was a bilateral treaty signed in 1984 that guarantees a “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong until at least 2047.

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Mr Ortagus said those commitments are “key to preserving Hong Kong’s special status in international affairs, and, consistent with US law, the United States’ current treatment of Hong Kong”.

He added: “Any effort to impose national security legislation that does not reflect the will of the people of Hong Kong would be highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said she was concerned by the move to implement the law.

She wrote on Twitter: “Beijing’s announcement of yet another attempt to bring an end to the “one country, two systems” framework in #HongKong is deeply alarming.

“Attempting to circumvent the HK legislature shows a complete disrespect for the rule of law.”

The UK Government has yet to respond to the move by Beijing.

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Theresa May’s ex-EU advisor has plan to solve Brexit stalemate – will anger Leave voters

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The UK Government has been urged to carve out a middle way and implement a conditional extension to the EU transition period to ensure Brexit uncertainty is mitigated for businesses who have already been hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The move has been proposed by Raoul Ruparel, Theresa May’s former special advisor on Europe, who argues such a measure would “allow everyone to prepare for any deal reached”.

Mr Ruparel’s suggestion differs to an outright extension of the Brexit transition period, which is due to end on December 31, 2020.

A conditional extension, known as a Preparation, Ratification and Engagement Period (PREP), would not extend the negotiation period and could only be used if a deal has been reached between the UK and the EU.

Instead, the PREP would allow both sides to engage with businesses on how to implement the deal – to ensure they are prepared for any changes that will be implemented.

It is hoped such a move would help mitigate an economic fallout, especially when many businesses will still be dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus.

Writing for Politico, Mr Ruparel said the extended period would: “Be used for UK and EU governments to engage with business on how to implement the deal, for all involved to prepare for the coming changes and for the final ratification steps to be taken.

“Such time to prepare is common for big legal changes, from new financial regulations to free-trade agreements, often via a phase-in period.”

He added: “Crucially, this PREP time wouldn’t create more time for negotiating, simply more time to implement whatever had been agreed in the existing negotiating period.”

The political adviser said a conditional extension could be in place for just a handful of months to ensure the process isn’t delayed too much.

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He said the PREP would be vitally important for many businesses, as they may feel unprepared for any changes to be implemented because they have been focused on mitigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Ruparel said: “Almost all government and business resource has been diverted away from preparing for Brexit and onto dealing with COVID-19, meaning necessary arrangements for implementing a deal are unlikely to be in place even if one is reached.

“The PREP would provide extra time to prepare and would do so while providing clarity about the political agreement that has been reached.

“As it stands, the value of any potential deal is being steadily reduced since, if one is reached very late in the day, no-one involved on either side would have had the time or capacity to implement it.”

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The political adviser said it was important to note a PREP would not extend the negotiations and a conditional extension could only be implemented if a deal had already been reached.

As a result, Mr Johnson’s aims of continuing to ramp up pressure on the EU to make compromises will still be in place.

Mr Ruparel said the main beneficiaries of a PREP would be businesses.

He wrote: “Such a conditional extension would reduce uncertainty rather than create more of it.

“It would provide a clear date from which the new agreement will be in place and allow firms certainty that they have time to prepare.

“More importantly though, it would narrow down the potential scenarios which both government and business have to prepare for at the end of this year.”

But approving a PREP would mean the UK would have to contribute to the EU budget next year, something the UK Government has been keen to avoid.

Mr Ruparel said the additional cost is justified however, as the benefits of the PREP far outweighs the cost.

Source: Read Full Article

Long range weather forecast: Summer SCORCHER to blast UK in June – latest maps

Britain is just weeks away from officially starting the summer season, and many of us are hopeful for warm and sunny weather this year. Temperatures are already starting to heat up, with the Met Office forecasting highs of 28C could be possible later this week. So what is the weather forecast for the next few weeks?

This week the mercury is forecast to rise well into the high 20’s, with thunderstorms also possible later in the week.

Temperatures are expected to creep up from the lower 20Cs on Monday, with startling highs of 28C possible in the latter half of the week.

And according to the latest long-range forecasts, the good weather could be here to stay towards the end of May and start of June.

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From Friday, May 22 to Sunday, May 31, the Met Office forecast the weather will start “very warm with good spells of long, fine and dry weather throughout”.

Thunderstorms and some rain spells could follow, but temperatures will still remain “above average for this time of year”.

The Met Office said: “However, it is possible that following this, rain will develop across some western regions, perhaps spreading east at times whilst weakening.

“These unsettled periods carry the risk of strong winds, mainly for western areas, and rain may turn heavy at times, however confidence is low for this presently.

“There is a risk of a few thunderstorms forming ahead of any bands of rain.

“Probably becoming less warm, but temperatures remaining above average for the time of year.”

The end of this period could see a return to much warmer weather.

The Met Office added: “Towards the end of this period it’s possible we will see a return of more settled conditions, with further dry and rather warm weather.”

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  • London weather: Capital to see boiling 25C heatwave in 12-day scorcher

As May passes to June, the start of the month may also be marked with some hot and sunny weather.

WXCHARTS weather maps, which use data from MetDesk, suggest the start of June will be warm for many parts of the UK.

On June 2, parts of southern and eastern England are forecast to see temperatures into the 20’s.

Central England and the Midlands are forecast to see temperatures between 12 and 16C at this time, while Scotland may also see highs of 18C in some regions.

The Met Office long-range forecast states a “return to drier, more settled conditions” is expected at the start of the month.

Any rain will be confined to the north and northwest of the UK, with “slight risk of thundery outbreaks in the south at times”.

In terms of temperatures, the weather will be “tending towards warm”.

The Met Office added: “Temperatures are tending towards warm, and with a lower chance of it being hot at times in the south, although probably returning towards average towards the middle of June.”

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North Korea chaos: Military exploits desperate traders with $500 blackmail

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Haeyang port, which is the largest port in North Pyongan province and according to one trade source was established after the inauguration of the Kim Jong-un regime in 2011, is located in Ryongchon county in North Korea. It was among a number of maritime ports forced to close operations at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in January. The closure of all trade with China blew a huge hole in the local economy but business North Korea and China has now reopened.

But a source working in the trade industry told RFA’s Korean Service said only companies with ties to the country’s military can use the port.

And even they must pay $500 to access the port.

The source said: “Since the end of April, the seaport in Ryongchon has been reopened.

“This means that trade between North Korea and China has resumed after a long hiatus due to the coronavirus crisis.

“It is the largest seaport in the province, and only the military has the rights to it.

“The port is currently being used by trade companies affiliated with the military to earn foreign currency.”

But the insider said traders are being forced to pay £500 to the military to dock their boats at the port, adding those using the port include military fishing boats and ordinary boats hauling rice.

The source said: “Trade by sea has resumed, but the general ports in Dongyang and Unpasan, near the border area of North Pyongan province remain blocked,” said the source.

“Authorities resumed trade in Ryongchon port first in preparation for a worsening food shortage among military units.

“They are allowing foreign currency-making companies to trade over the sea with China, so they can procure food for the military.

“Since we’re trading again, trade vessels that had been waiting the trade freeze out in general ports such as those in Dongyang and Unpasan are now flocking to [Ryongchon],” the source said.

“But each vessel must contribute US$500 to the military to use the port here.”

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Another trader in North Pyongan Province also told RFA the border command mainly focuses on shipping costs and will not thoroughly check on what is being shipped.

They said: “I can bring in anything, but the shipping cost per ton is 3,500 Chinese yuan ($494).

“If we pay that, we can bring in everything, including agricultural machinery and cranes, in all sorts of ways through Dongyang or Unpasan.

The insider added that since the coronavirus outbreak in the country, trading companies, including those owned by the military, are struggling to survive as trade has stopped.

They said: “The coronavirus crisis has caused the military to suffer serious financial difficulties as maritime port trade had been suspended altogether,” said the second source.

“To overcome this, military trading companies have been engaging in smuggling since mid-March using the port of Unpasan, where the border command is stationed.

“The smuggling of trade companies belonging to the military was possible because the authorities tacitly allowed it.”

But the source claimed regular traders are furious the government is giving preferential treatment to the military trading companies, forcing them to continue taking risks by smuggling.

The insider said: “In April, smuggling by the military and some of the other national foreign currency making companies was rampant. The authorities were concerned about coronavirus coming in, so they started controlling it more strictly.

“But now that the port at Ryongchon has been reopened and only the military-affiliated trading companies are allowed to go try to make foreign currency, the general trading companies are protesting.

“Why do they give only preferential treatment to the military?”

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Varadkar humiliation: How Irish PM sparked outrage after horror Twitter comment

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Leo Varadkar is being urged to include Sinn Fein in talks to form a coalition government after Fine Gael lost a considerable number of seats at the February elections. Opposition party Sinn Fein, the politically left group historically associated with the IRA, meanwhile, enjoyed a resurgence, winning 15 seats.

John McGuinness, a senior politician from rival Fianna Fail party labelled Mr Varadkar as “ridiculous” for not including Sinn Fein in coalition talks.

He told RTE: “Fine Gael lost the election, Fianna Fail lost seats, and Sinn Fein had a good election.

“I see no good reason why, in these economic circumstances, we shouldn’t have a government made up of these three parties.

“They should get on with it and start talking.

“It is ridiculous that we would spend so long talking to two single parties without exploring the input of others.”

It’s not the first time Mr Varadkar has found himself at the centre of a political storm.

Shortly after the election, he provoked a furious response from Irish voters after posting a message to Twitter about his Government’s pledge on housing.

According to Government data, some 10,000 people are living in emergency accommodation and considered homeless.

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Yet, the Taoiseach praised his Government’s performance on housing, recounting the number of developments underway in the Republic.

Mr Varadkar wrote: “Confirmed: more than 21,000 new homes built last year and 3,000 more brought back into use.

“Should reach 25,000 this year.

“More than 30,000 next.

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“That’s what’s sustainable and deliverable.”

The tweet immediately backfired, with voters criticising Mr Varadkar over his use of data.

One wrote: “Leo these are not homes for the poor.

“Leave it to Mary Lou (SInn Fein’s leader) and can you please just leave the government and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Another commented: “Stop trying to mislead people.

“These are private developments and it costs people huge rents.

“HAP (Irish social housing) means two payments a week. People are on the breadline.

“You did not help, you made things worse.

“Wake up Taoiseach. Look at the votes!

“People need change. We can’t take anymore.”

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