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Thousands of ambulance workers go on strike today – as junior doctors announce when they will stage walkout | UK News

Thousands of ambulance workers are going on strike today in their ongoing dispute over pay and staffing.

The strike will involve more than 11,000 members of the GMB union in England and Wales, along with some members of the Unite union.

It comes as the number of health workers taking industrial action continues to grow, with junior doctors set to go on strike next month.

Speaking on behalf of ambulance workers, GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said they will walk out “because this government is tin-eared”.

“It has been over a month since the government engaged in any meaningful dialogue,” she said.

“They are missing in action and refuse to talk pay.”

She added: “Solving the issue of pay is vital if we’re going to stem the tide of dedicated healthcare workers leaving the profession.”

GMB members

Junior doctors in the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) have said they will strike in England on Wednesday 15 March.

Some 97.48% of members voted in favour of what will be the first strike in the union’s history.

HCSA president Dr Naru Narayanan said: “Junior doctors have held together patient care amid a spiralling staffing crisis.

“In return for this huge emotional, mental and physical toll they’ve been subjected to a decade of real-terms pay cuts totalling over 26%. Enough is enough.”

Read more:
Who is taking industrial action in 2023 and when?
Rising public support for unions, poll suggests

Around 45,000 junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association (BMA) have also been balloted on strike action – with the result due at the end of February.

The BMA has warned it will stage a three-day strike if there is a “yes” vote.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “As part of a multi-year deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors’ pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2% since 2019/20.

“We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.”

Steve Barclay  leaves after attending a cabinet meeting in Downing Street
Steve Barclay said ‘it is time unions engaged constructively’. Pic: AP

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Strikes are in nobody’s best interests and only cause further disruption for patients, despite contingency measures in place.

“It is time unions engaged constructively with the pay review body process for 2023/24 and cancelled strikes so we can move forward and continue tackling the COVID-19 backlog.

“I’ve been clear throughout that I remain keen to keep talking to unions about what is fair and affordable for the coming financial year, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload so we can make the NHS a better place to work.”

Nurses will continue their action with a 48-hour strike starting on 1 March, with the Royal College of Nursing saying it has received £250,000 in public donations since starting its campaign in December.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “There isn’t a person in this country whose life hasn’t been impacted by a nurse and that’s why the public are with us every step of the way.”

Former World Of Sport presenter Dickie Davies dies aged 94 | UK News

Former World Of Sport presenter Dickie Davies has died at the age of 94.

Davies is best known for fronting the ITV show between 1968 and its end in 1985.

Davies’ former colleague Jim Rosenthal wrote on Twitter: “With huge sadness we announce Dickie Davies passed away this morning.

“So proud of his 20 years of World Of Sport, three Olympic Games and a brilliant career on the telly.

“He is survived by a loving wife, two adoring sons, four grandkids and two beloved dogs.”

He described Davies as “a wonderful friend and colleague”.

Former Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys added his tribute, writing on Twitter: “Dickie Davies. A legend.

“It’s the end of that era.

“A kind man and brilliant broadcaster.

“RIP Dickie.”

Davies was born Richard Davies in Wallasey in 1928 but changed his name to Dickie in 1968 at the behest of his friend, footballer and pundit Jimmy Hill.

Before he was on TV screens, he completed national service with the RAF and worked as head purser on the ocean liner Queen Mary.

In 1961, he became an announcer for Southern Television and became understudy to Eamonn Andrews in 1965 when ITV launched its rival to Grandstand, originally known as Wide World Of Sport.

When Andrews departed three years later, Davies took over the main presenting role.

After ITV pulled the plug on the programme in 1985, Davies fronted a number of other sports for the channel – including the 1988 Seoul Olympics and a number of early Mike Tyson fights – before leaving in 1989 to present snooker on the then Sky-owned Eurosport.

He did a stint as sports editor on Classic FM but had a stroke in 1995 which temporarily left him unable to speak.

But after a near-full recovery he returned to the screen for a number of specials, including ITV’s 50-year World Of Sport anniversary in 2005.

Nicola Bulley: Police recover body from river near where mother-of-two went missing | UK News

Police searching for missing mother-of-two Nicola Bulley have recovered a body from the river near to where she went missing.

“We were called today at 11.36am to reports of a body in the River Wyre, close to Rawcliffe Road,” Lancashire Police said in a statement.

“An underwater search team and specialist officers have subsequently attended the scene, entered the water and have sadly recovered a body.

“No formal identification has yet been carried out, so we are unable to say whether this is Nicola Bulley at this time.

“Procedures to identify the body are ongoing. We are currently treating the death as unexplained.

“Nicola’s family have been informed of developments and our thoughts are with them at this most difficult of times. We ask that their privacy is respected.”

A police helicopter has been hovering above the River Wyre
A police helicopter has been hovering above the River Wyre
Police at the scene following the discovery of a body in the River Wyre in the search for missing Nicola Bulley. From Sky News.
Police at the scene

Earlier, a road was cordoned off along the river close to St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, as was a footpath.

The search site is about a mile from where Ms Bulley was lasted spotted.

A police helicopter hovered above the area for about 25 minutes and a drone was used, too.

Sky News correspondent Inzamam Rashid said a white forensic tent had been erected.

“There is a significant police presence at one section of the river,” Rashid said.

The senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith, was among them, he added.

Nicola Bulley
Nicola Bulley was walking her dog when she went missing

The area has been the focus of an intensive search operation since Ms Bulley, 45, was last seen at about 9.10am on 27 January while walking her dog.

Officers have said their main working hypothesis is that the mother-of-two fell into the river, but her friends and family previously claimed there was “no evidence whatsoever” to support that theory.

Read more:
Rishi Sunak ‘concerned’ over private information shared in case
Remarks criticising Nicola Bulley detective’s dress condemned

Concerns have been expressed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman about the release of personal information about Ms Bulley.

Police said she had suffered “significant issues with alcohol” which had been brought on by “ongoing struggles with the menopause”.

 Nicola Bulley
Nicola Bulley was last seen on 27 January

But Ms Bulley’s family said they were “aware beforehand that Lancashire Police released a statement with some personal details about our Nikki”.

They said: “Although we know that Nikki would not have wanted this, there are people out there speculating and threatening to sell stories about her. This is appalling and needs to stop.

“The public focus has to be on finding her and not making up wild theories about her personal life.”

Lancashire Police have confirmed that a date has been set for an internal review of the investigation.

A police spokeswoman said: “A review of the investigation is diarised and will be conducted by our head of crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables.”

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Nicola Bulley: PM ‘concerned’ over shared information

Andrew Snowden, Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner, said officers were being “as transparent as they can be” in what is an “incredibly sensitive and complex case”.

The case has attracted massive public interest, especially from amateur sleuths and social media video-makers, who have been coming up with their own theories for Ms Bulley’s disappearance.

Police have said these people and their actions have “distracted significantly” from the official investigation.

At the time, senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith said: “In 29 years’ police service I’ve never seen anything like it.

“Some of it has been quite shocking and really hurtful to the family.”

Mackenzie Crook’s missing sister-in-law Laurel Aldridge ‘very vulnerable’ after missing chemotherapy session | UK News

Sussex Police have issued new pictures of Mackenzie Crook’s missing sister-in-law – who missed a chemotherapy session and is considered “very vulnerable”.

Laurel Aldridge, 62, from Walberton near Arundel, has not been seen since leaving home on Tuesday morning.

Officers, while pursuing “multiple lines of enquiry”, are “concerned” and are urging local residents to check their outbuildings.

Crook, who starred in The Office and Detectorists, has said the family are “really worried” about Ms Aldridge, who he described as a “wonderful mother” and “usually very happy”.

Laurel Aldridge was wearing a turquoise fleece and maroon tartan scarf
Ms Aldridge was wearing a turquoise fleece and maroon tartan scarf
Ms Aldridge had a grey puffer jacket with her
She also had a grey puffer jacket with her

The new photographs show her wearing a turquoise fleece, maroon tartan scarf and brown hat. She also had a grey puffer jacket with her.

She is about five foot four, with grey/blonde highlighted hair, and sometimes wears glasses.

“She is considered to be very vulnerable and anyone with information of Laurel’s whereabouts is asked to report it to police,” the force said in an update.

Detective Sergeant Alan Fenn said he would be grateful if “residents in the Walberton and Slindon areas could check their outbuildings for any sightings of Laurel”.

He added: “Also, anyone who was in the Walberton area on Tuesday morning or has video footage of someone matching Laurel’s description is asked to report it to us.”

Crook said that his sister-in-law's disappearance was "very out of character"
Crook said his sister-in-law’s disappearance was ‘very out of character’

The local community is joining in the search, Crook has said. “A lot of people are looking in the local woodlands along the roads and stuff like that,” he told ITV.

Describing his sister-in-law’s disappearance as “very out of character”, he added that she had missed a chemotherapy session on the day she went missing.

“If I could appeal to everyone. Even if they checked before, check again in likely places where she might have crept in to lay down for the night.”

SNP leadership race: Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan announce bids to succeed Nicola Sturgeon | UK News

The Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf and former minister Ash Regan have announced their bids to stand to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP.

The pair made their announcements in the Sunday Mail newspaper, with Mr Yousaf describing the time since Ms Sturgeon announced her resignation as a “rollercoaster of emotions”.

They are the first candidates to officially declare their intention to stand.

Mr Yousaf said: “You’ve got to put yourself forward if you think you’re the best person for the job. And I do. This is the top job in the country, and it needs somebody who has experience.”

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf during a visit to the Rapid Cancer Diagnostic Service (RCDS) at the NHS Fife Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy. The chairman of a doctors' union has warned there is "no way that the NHS in Scotland can survive" in its current form as he renewed his calls for a national conversation on the future of the service. Dr Iain Kennedy, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, issued the warning on Wednesday, and said his NHS colleagues had told him over the pas
Humza Yousaf

The Glasgow Pollok MSP has been viewed as a potential successor to Ms Sturgeon since he first entered Holyrood in 2011.

He has been a perennial frontbencher in every SNP administration since, but has become mired with controversy in recent years surrounding the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill – which faced criticisms over its impact on freedom of expression – and his stewardship of the NHS, which faced the hardest winter in its history in recent months.

Announcing her bid, Ms Regan said she believes she is the right person to “bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them”.

SNP Minister Ash Regan speaks at the For Women Scotland and the Scottish Feminist Network demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, ahead of the vote on the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. Picture date: Wednesday December 21, 2022.
Ash Regan

She referred to getting the NHS “back on its feet” following the COVID pandemic, boosting the economy, creating jobs and dealing with the cost of living crisis.

The former community safety minister has been referred to as a rebel SNP MSP after she resigned in protest against the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, and has since become an outspoken critic of the legislation.

She has also called for SNP members who left in the past year to be given a vote in the leadership race – a move described as “preposterous” by deputy first minister John Swinney.

Read more:
The controversies which piled pressure on Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon’s time as Scotland’s first minister in 10 charts

Other potential candidates yet to announce their bids include finance secretary Kate Forbes, culture secretary Angus Robertson and Mairi McAllan.

Mr Swinney has ruled himself out to be next the leader, as did Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader.

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How the SNP will elect its new leader

SNP MP Angus MacNeil told Sky News that the party has a number of options to choose from following Ms Sturgeon’s surprise resignation.

“There are other capable people such as Jenny Gilruth or Ivan McKee, or I think Kate Forbes is going to put her hat into the ring as well,” he said.

“But one of the things that we do have is a depth of talent in the SNP.”

Candidates have until Friday 24 February to receive more than the threshold of 100 nominations from at least 20 local branches.

If more than one candidate passes that mark, an election will be triggered, culminating on 27 March.

What is the Brexit deal being discussed between UK and EU and will it be backed in Northern Ireland? | Politics News

Rishi Sunak says Britain and the EU have an understanding on what needs to be done around the Northern Ireland Protocol, but that work still needs to be done.

The prime minister spoke about where things stand following his speech at the Munich Security Conference, saying that Britain wanted to have a positive relationship with the EU.

So what is actually going on?

I thought we had a Brexit deal, what is this agreement that Rishi Sunak is trying to get?

These talks are all about the part of the Brexit deal that relates to Northern Ireland.

Dubbed the “Northern Ireland Protocol”, it was agreed with the EU by Boris Johnson in 2020 – alongside the wider trade and co-operation treaty.

The point of it is to avoid a hard physical border on the island of Ireland – the only place where there is a land frontier between the UK and EU.

All parties agreed this was necessary to preserve peace on the island.

The protocol does this by placing Northern Ireland in a far tighter relationship with the EU, compared with the rest of the UK.

Since the Brexit deal fully came into force at the start of 2021, there has been an ongoing process to iron out the various issues it has thrown up relating to Northern Ireland.

That has escalated over time to the point where a new agreement is now being worked on.

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There’s new hope of a breakthrough to end years of deadlock between the UK and the European Union over post-Brexit trade arrangements

What practical changes are needed?

To avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, physical checks take place when goods cross the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Companies and traders in Northern Ireland also have to comply with EU single market rules.

This has all caused friction in the flows of goods coming from England, Wales and Scotland with shortages of certain items in shops and onerous paperwork for businesses.

EU rules on food stuffs has also meant a potential ban on sausages and other “chilled meats” coming from Great Britain.

There are also upsides of the deal though. As Northern Ireland essentially still has one foot in the EU single market, it’s easier for businesses there to trade on the continent.

What’s been the political fallout in Belfast?

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) unionist politicians in Belfast believe Northern Ireland is being carved out from the rest of the UK and treated in too different a fashion.

This stems in part from the practical problems being experienced by businesses.

There’s also concern over a so-called “democratic deficit” whereby Northern Ireland takes on rules from Brussels that it has no say over.

There are more ideological issues too. The role played by the European Court of Justice is a big sticking point.

Because Northern Ireland is still subject to EU rules, Brussels believes its court should have a heavy involvement in resolving disputes.

The DUP and some Conservative MPs see this as an erosion of the UK’s sovereignty and incompatible with the aims of Brexit.

Harland & Wolff's Belfast shipyard.
The iconic site of Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast

How does this relate to the Northern Ireland assembly?

The DUP is one of two parties that shares power in the devolved government in Northern Ireland.

But the party has been staging a boycott and refusing to allow this executive to form or the elected assembly to sit until its concerns over the Brexit deal are addressed.

This has meant the democratic institutions that are supposed to be running public services in Northern Ireland and representing voters haven’t been functioning properly for more than a year.

Sinn Fein – the republican party that also shares powers in Belfast – has urged the DUP to approve the changes to the Brexit deal and go back into power-sharing as soon as possible.

What will be in the new deal?

We don’t really know. Downing Street has been keeping quiet about the details.

Speculation is that parts of it will look quite similar to plans outlined by the UK last year.

There may be a “green lane” and “red lane” system to separate goods destined for Northern Ireland from those at risk of being transported to the Republic and on to the EU.

This should reduce the need for physical checks and paperwork. Some sort of compromise is also likely on the role of the European Court of Justice.

There could potentially be a mechanism whereby the ECJ can only decide on a dispute after a referral from a separate arbitration panel or a Northern Irish court.

Read more:
Britain and EU NI deal ‘by no means done’
Northern Ireland election delayed until January 2024

Will the DUP support it?

This is the big unknown. The party has come up with seven “tests” that it will apply to any deal when deciding whether to back it.

These contain some specific requests, such as there being no checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and no border in the Irish Sea.

But there are also broader points such as allowing the people of Northern Ireland the same privileges as everyone else in the United Kingdom and guaranteeing the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

There are also electoral considerations, a sizeable chunk of the unionist community in Northern Ireland believes the DUP should only go back into power-sharing if the Northern Ireland Protocol is scrapped completely.

So if the DUP is seen to cave too easily, the party could lose voters to more hard line rivals.

Will Tory MPs support it?

Again, we just don’t know. It’s also unclear whether MPs will actually get a Commons vote on the new agreement. Downing Street hasn’t committed to one.

But not allowing MPs to have a say would risk inflaming tensions with backbenchers.

The main audience the prime minister needs to please here is the “European Research Group” of pro-Brexit MPs.

They claim otherwise, but the caucus isn’t really as powerful as it was a few years ago.

Many senior members are now in government including the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, the Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and his junior minister Steve Baker.

They will all need to be happy before the deal is published. In fact, they could play a part in getting Eurosceptic colleagues on board.

The reaction of Boris Johnson could also prove crucial. If the former prime minister came out against his successor’s deal, that could galvanise backbench anger.

Labour has said it will lend Rishi Sunak votes if he can’t push the deal through on his own. But this would be an embarrassing development for the prime minister that would risk further instability in his own party.

What happens if Rishi Sunak can’t get everybody on board?

The prime minister can live with some dissent from his MPs. Failing to win the support of the DUP is more serious though, as it means the party will continue to block the formation of the devolved executive in Belfast.

If the objections from the DUP seem less forceful, Mr Sunak could proceed anyway and hope they eventually come onboard after May’s local elections.

If he runs into a solid roadblock with both his MPs and the DUP and can’t get further concessions from the EU, then there is still the option of invoking the Northern Ireland Protocol Act.

This is UK legislation currently making its way through Parliament that would strip away parts of the Brexit deal without the approval of the EU.

Many see it as contravening international law and using it risks a trade war with Brussels. That’s something the government could do without, given the delicate economic situation.

What if Rishi Sunak gets his deal through with support from everybody?

If the prime minister can fix the Brexit deal, restore power-sharing in Belfast and keep his party together then it will be the undeniable high point of his time in Downing Street so far.

He will be able to claim that he solved an issue that has bedevilled his three predecessors.

It also has the potential of being a significant political inflexion point.

If the economic situation improves and he can also bring forward tangible action on strikes and Channel crossings, then there is a chance that the gloomy electoral outlook for the government begins to brighten.

But I thought Boris Johnson said Brexit was done?

Yes, he did. He also promised that his deal would not lead to a border in the Irish Sea.

At the time, many inside and outside of politics warned that the text of the agreement he signed would mean checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The former prime minister and his allies now say no one expected the EU to enforce the agreement in such a strict and inflexible way. The real answer to all this may lie in the politics of the time.

In 2019, Boris Johnson was eager to get a deal agreed with Brussels and campaign in a general election on the back of it.

This meant some of the thornier parts of the treaty were somewhat played down at the time. But it also stored up problems that Rishi Sunak is now trying to fix.

If this deal goes through, will Brexit then be done?

It will be more “done” than it ever has been. But overall, not really.

For a start, the Northern Ireland Protocol has a consent mechanism built into it, meaning that members of the devolved assembly in Belfast will vote next year on whether to keep the arrangement.

If a simple majority of Stormont members approves the deal, then it will remain in place for four years, at which point another vote will take place.

If it passes with a higher approval percentage in both unionist and republican parties, then the next vote will happen in eight years’ time. Then there’s the issue of the UK signing trade deals with other countries around the world.

This could mean changes to domestic rules and regulations that would have a knock-on impact for Northern Ireland and for the UK’s broader relationship with the EU.

Future governments may also decide to take a different approach with Brussels meaning Brexit and the country’s relationship with its closest neighbours will stay a live issue for a good time yet.

Britain and EU have understanding on Northern Ireland issues but deal ‘by no means done’, Rishi Sunak says | Politics News

Britain and the EU have an understanding on what needs to be done to resolve issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol but a deal is “by no means done”, Rishi Sunak has said.

Speaking during a question and answer session after his speech at the Munich Security Conference, the prime minister said Britain wanted to have a positive relationship with the bloc.

But he said that there were “real issues that need resolving”.

“The way that the protocol has been implemented, it’s causing very real challenges for families, for people, for businesses on the ground,” he said.

“We’re engaging in those conversations with the European Union all the time and we have been for a while, but what I’d say is there is still work to do.

“There are still challenges to work through. We have not resolved all these issues.

“No, there isn’t a deal that has been done, there is an understanding of what needs to be done.”

Mr Sunak added that “we’re working through (the issues) hard and we will work through them intensely with the EU, but we are by no means done”.

It comes after Sinn Fein’s leader Mary Lou McDonald said “significant progress” had been made to resolve the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol and a deal is “very much game on”.

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Hope of NI Brexit breakthrough

Speaking after discussions with Mr Sunak, who was in Northern Ireland on Friday to hold talks with political leaders, she told reporters: “We have always believed that a deal on the protocol was possible and we’ve always known it was necessary.

“It is clear that significant progress has been made and we are very heartened by that. We now want to see a speedy concluding of matters.

Read more:
Prime minister visits Belfast for talks on Northern Ireland Protocol
Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen promise to ‘work together’ on Northern Ireland

“The bottom line is that we have to ensure that any deal provides for ongoing access to the European single market, no hardening of the border on the island of Ireland and a protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts.

“It seems to us that it’s very much game on.”

Mary Lou McDonald, President of the SNP
Mary Lou McDonald with Michelle O’Neill

She said if these terms are reached it is then “a matter for everyone, for each of the political parties to step up, get back to work and deliver for people here in the north of Ireland”.

This is likely aimed at the DUP and other unionists, who have collapsed the Stormont assembly in protest over the protocol.

Mr Sunak travelled to Belfast, along with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, to meet Stormont leaders amid mounting speculation a deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements could be days away.

After emerging from talks with Mr Sunak, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said while “progress has been made” on the Northern Ireland Protocol, there is “still some work required”.

DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says progress has been made on the Northern Ireland protocol. In a statement to the press he said 'It's not a question of compromise, it is a question of the UK government honouring the commitments they've made to the people of Northern Ireland'.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

He warned that “if and when a final agreement is reached, we will want to carefully consider the detail of that agreement and decide if the agreement does, in fact meet our seven tests”.

These “seven tests” were set out by the party in 2021 and include no new checks of any sort on goods being traded between GB and NI.

Asked if he will compromise on these tests for a deal to pass muster, Sir Jeffrey said it “is not a question of compromising”, but rather the “UK government honouring the commitments they’ve made”.

Rishi Sunak may not want to look like he is jumping the gun over new deal

Rob Powell Political reporter

Rob Powell

Political correspondent


Rishi Sunak very much downplaying reports that there could be a deal revealed as soon as Monday.

I guess the question is, whether that is an indication of genuine delays and problems and that there may not be something coming in the imminent future, or whether this is more strategy.

I think when you look at some of the choreography of the last few days, discussions going on in Belfast, the foreign secretary in Brussels yesterday, and meetings with EU leaders in Munich, it feels like there is something more substantial that is moving there.

So what may be going on, quite frankly, is an attempt not to sound too presumptuous in terms of revealing a deal without the DUP’s permission. Because of course, it is the DUP, unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, that really need to approve of this deal.

Because if they don’t, they will refuse to go back into power-sharing in Belfast and it means the democratic institutions, the executive, and the assembly there, won’t sit again.

So Rishi Sunak is trying to keep multiple audiences happy here, and that is potentially why he doesn’t want to sound too presumptuous or looking like he is jumping the gun in announcing any potential deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The mechanism has left Northern Ireland without a devolved power-sharing executive since early last year.

The protocol has overshadowed Northern Irish politics since it was agreed upon as part of the Brexit deal in a bid to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Members of the unionist community are unhappy with the difficulties it creates for trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, with the DUP refusing to cooperate with forming a devolved Executive in Stormont until the issues are resolved.

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why does it matter?

The UK government says the protocol is not working and wants to override it with new legislation if the EU does not agree to changes – a move Brussels has warned is “illegal and unrealistic”.

However, tensions have cooled in recent months, with both sides pledging to work together to find a way forward.

Last month, the EU and the UK said there was a “new basis” for resolving the Northern Ireland Protocol row after an agreement was reached in sharing trade data.

Brianna Ghey: Vigils held across UK to remember trans teen fatally stabbed in park – ‘rest in power’ | UK News

A series of vigils were held across the country on Friday night to remember Brianna Ghey, the 16-year-old who was stabbed to death last weekend in Warrington, Cheshire.

Hundreds of people gathered at Culcheth Village Green close to where Brianna, a transgender girl, was found with fatal stab wounds on a path in a park on 11 February.

The vigil was attended by the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and his daughter Annie. Mr Burnham was brought up in the village.

“Here to remember Brianna, send our love to her family and support to young trans people everywhere,” he tweeted.

Many of those at the vigil – one of dozens around the UK – wore “Rest in power Brianna Ghey” T-shirts as crowds sang Over The Rainbow.

Tricia Anderton, 59, the secretary of Culcheth Village Choir, said: “We were very proud to play even just a small part of this evening’s vigil for Brianna.

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Brianna’s friends ‘sick and in disbelief’

“We are a very close community in Culcheth, with many of our choir members having lived in the village for many years and this awful tragedy has touched the hearts of everyone.

“We were asked specifically to sing Over The Rainbow, and it was so lovely to hear everyone joining in.

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“Our thoughts and prayers are with Brianna’s family and friends.”

Hundreds of people also gathered outside the Hippodrome Theatre in Birmingham, and other vigils took place in Southampton, Nottingham and Edinburgh.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Hippodrome in Birmingham
Brianna Ghey was found with fatal stab wounds in a park in Warrington on 11 February

Meanwhile in a statement, Brianna’s family said they were “overwhelmed” by the “support, positivity and compassion” shown across the country.

Further memorials are planned over the weekend, with another in her home town of Warrington on Saturday afternoon.

A boy and a girl, both aged 15, have been charged with her murder – they appeared via videolink at Liverpool Crown Court on Thursday.

A trial date has been set for July.

People on mental health waiting lists cautioned not to turn to chatbots | Science & Tech News

People waiting months for mental health treatment have been cautioned against turning to chatbots as a quick alternative.

One in four patients are now waiting more than 90 days between their first and second appointments for NHS talking therapy treatment, according to analysis by charity Future Care Capital (FCC).

The free sessions, delivered by fully trained and accredited practitioners, are meant to support those who suffer from conditions like anxiety and depression.

But thousands of people are facing long delays, with demand for treatment having risen since the pandemic.

A recent survey by the FCC found 87% of people struggling with their mental health were now using apps to get help, with 31% leaning on such tools because they did not want to wait for face-to-face support.

Dr Lauren Evans, director of research and innovation at FCC, said such resources had a role to play but cautioned against the use of increasingly popular chatbots, which have been tipped as an alternative to search engines.

“Although chatbots have been used for a while to direct telephone enquiries or provide basic information, it is an entirely different endeavour to gauge not only what somebody is saying, but the way they are saying it and what that might entail,” she told Sky News.

Digital tools ‘must be tested to high standards’

Since the pandemic, Google has reported an increase in the number of searches related to mental health, notably depression and anxiety.

People are also turning to social media to find support. Research by Luna, an app designed to help teenagers with mental health struggles, suggests more than eight in 10 young people are using TikTok to diagnose their troubles.

According to the FCC’s survey, people are now more than twice as likely to find a digital mental health tool on social media than through their GP.

Chatbots specifically released to be digital therapists have also grown in popularity in recent years – examples include Woebot and Wysa, which are both highly rated on Apple and Google’s app stores.

But new language models like the successful ChatGPT from OpenAI are not designed for this purpose. Despite this, asking questions about mental health will still see it confidently deliver an answer – even if it’s wrong.

Dr Evans warned: “Any such technology needs to be subjected to rigorous testing with high standards – and it could prove to be revolutionary.

“But it should not be implemented in place of face-to-face treatment with a medical professional.”

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‘People want the human touch’

UK charity Samaritans, which operates a free 24/7 helpline for people who are struggling, has also stressed the importance of human interaction when seeking mental health support.

Kay, a volunteer who signed up after receiving help during her own struggle with anxiety, told Sky News: “I don’t think chatbots would be entirely helpful, because you just don’t know what call you’re going to take.

“When people talk, they want the human touch, to feel they’re talking to a real person who can empathise.”

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Guide to digital mental health resources

In a bid to ensure those who do seek help online find an appropriate resource, the FCC has launched a new comprehensive guide that directs people towards trusted apps and platforms.

The digital mental health tools guide allows users to filter resource based on conditions like addiction, anxiety, stress, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and self-esteem.

“Digital tools are not a substitute for in-person mental health treatment,” Dr Evans stressed, “but can be used in conjunction with professional support and may help people waiting between treatment sessions.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

Ukrainian refugees staying in UK facing homelessness as Homes for Ukraine placements end | UK News

Nine months after arriving in the UK, Ukrainian refugee Anfisa Vlasova is searching for somewhere to spend the night.

“I’m just trying to move on and survive,” she says.

Britain opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees on visa schemes last spring.

Now it’s a cold, drab day in early February and Anfisa is facing the unthinkable – she is homeless.

Ukrainian refugee Anfisa Vlasova
Ukrainian refugee Anfisa Vlasova

Anfisa has been desperately ringing around charities, the local council and anyone she knows trying to find a place to stay for the night. There’s disappointment after disappointment.

But her search for somewhere suitable is complicated by the fact that Anfisa has four dogs who’ve travelled thousands of miles with her from a war zone. And she refuses to be separated from them.

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Hugging each of her mini Yorkshire terriers Betsy, Nora, Daisy and Teddy it’s obvious just how much they mean to her.

Anfisa says: “They are my emotional support. I already lost everything in the war.”

Ukrainian refugee Anfisa Vlasova with her mini Yorkshire terriers Betsy, Nora, Daisy and Teddy.
Ukrainian refugee Anfisa Vlasova with her mini Yorkshire terriers

We’re in Bracknell in Berkshire and it’s getting dark.

There is an 11th-hour solution available – she could go to a bed and breakfast provided by the local authority. But her dogs would have to be put into kennels, which Anfisa isn’t prepared to let happen.

Anfisa appears to have run out of options when help comes from an unexpected quarter.

Also looking for accommodation she meets some of Bracknell’s homeless community who take her to a local church.

The House of God wasn’t where she was expecting to spend the night.

Ukrainian refugee Anfisa Vlasova with her mini Yorkshire terriers Betsy, Nora, Daisy and Teddy.
Anfisa Vlasova with her mini Yorkshire terriers Betsy, Nora, Daisy and Teddy

“I’m so tired and exhausted because all day just running, calling, searching. So at least I got a roof and it’s warm and I got a meal and my dogs are with me,” she says.

Anfisa, who promoted cosmetics in Ukraine, was displaced twice in her home country first from Donetsk in 2014, then she fled from Kharkiv as it was being shelled last year.

She describes the way she’s now living hand-to-mouth as “deja vu”.

Anfisa came to the UK last May to live with a British family on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

She then went to a second host – an elderly man who Anfisa says wanted her to be his carer and companion.

She’s also stayed in an apartment provided by the council and a bed and breakfast.

She’s still looking for a permanent home for herself and her dogs.

Anfisa Vlasova's mini Yorkshire terriers Betsy, Nora, Daisy and Teddy.
Anfisa’s came to the UK with her mini Yorkshire terriers Betsy, Nora, Daisy and Teddy

But whilst Anfisa’s situation is unusual the number of Ukrainian refugees needing help with housing is rapidly rising.

The latest figures show 161,400 refugees are in the UK on visa schemes following the Russian invasion of their country a year ago.

Whilst 46,900 Ukrainians came to stay with family members, most travelled on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme which required British hosts to take refugees in for a minimum of six months.

Available data analysed by Sky News shows 4,295 Ukrainian households are now turning to local councils for somewhere to live after their placements on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme ended.

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Not all local authorities have provided figures and with councils only tracking ‘households’ not people within a household, the actual number will be even higher.

There has been no data collected on Ukrainians who came as part of the Family Visa Scheme.

With no end to the war in sight – most of the Ukrainian refugees we’ve spoken to are parting on good terms from their hosts but now want some independence and a place of their own.

But for most it’s proving difficult.

Tatiana Miller, Ukraine Response Coordinator at Refugee Support in Reading, says housing is the biggest issue for the people she sees.

Tatiana Miller, Ukraine Response Coordinator at Refugee Support in Reading.
Tatiana Miller, Ukraine Response Coordinator at Refugee Support in Reading

She says half of the Ukrainians at the support group will need new accommodation in the next month or two – and renting is proving very difficult.

She says: “The main message is we need compassionate landlords and we need local authorities to work with estate agents to accommodate that.

“The time has come when they (the refugees) need their space back.

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“But for Ukrainian people to look for alternative accommodation that means they need to rent and to rent they need a job or have a credit history.

“And Ukrainians don’t have the amount of salary that’s expected.”

Former history teacher Kateryna Korniienko clearly gets on well with her hosts Fiona and Richard Marston who took Kateryna and her two children in on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

Former history teacher Kateryna Korniienko is staying with hosts Fiona and Richard Marston who took Kateryna and her two children in on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
Former history teacher Kateryna Korniienko is staying with hosts in Britain with her two children on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme

She says: “It’s a very good place for us, but it’s not our house, it’s not our property, so every time I remember that I’m just a guest here and I should be polite. I want to keep their life the same as what it was before.”

Whilst Kateryna’s husband Andrew is still in Odesa, Kateryna has started working in Berkshire as a teaching assistant and her children are at a local school.

In Ukraine, Kateryna was a lecturer and history teacher but Fiona says her guest’s qualifications aren’t recognised in the UK – part of the reason why Fiona is keen to help Kateryna move on by standing as a financial guarantor on a rental property.

Fiona said: “I think for all of us we don’t want to go on like this forever.

“But for us, it’s more ‘what does Kate want?’

Former history teacher Kateryna Korniienko is staying with hosts Fiona and Richard Marston who took Kateryna and her two children in on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
Kateryna is staying with hosts Fiona and Richard Marston

“So my understanding is that what Kate wants is as normal a family life as she can have. And so for her, that means living independently.

“There is that balance, isn’t there, that we can suddenly not have to worry about when our family comes to stay. But yes I’ll miss them.”

But Anfisa Vlasova – who spent a night in a church with her four mini Yorkshire terriers – hasn’t found the breakthrough she’s looking for.

Since we last met she’s had several nights sleeping rough.

She shares photographs with us of the tent she shared with her dogs.

Ukrainian refugee Anfisa Vlasova has spent several nights sleeping rough. She shares photographs with us of the tent she shared with her dogs.
Anfisa Vlasova spent several nights sleeping rough in a tent with her dogs

When temperatures plummeted she was offered a place in a hotel but her pets would have had to go into kennels – which she refused.

Anifsa told us before she became homeless she had been offered accommodation by the council for her and her pets – but she turned it down as unsuitable.

In one case she said it was because it was a room with a family who had a cat.

She said: “I just want to hide, you know? Under my blanket, closing my eyes, imagining I’m at home, in my bed, in my flat and I’m just hiding under the blanket at the place which I feel is my own space.

“Since I came here, just I had six months of quite peaceful life with my host family and I am really very appreciative to those people but later on, it’s a nightmare.”