Wednesday briefing: Barr holds no concerns over election

·9-min read
<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Top story: ‘Someone is going to get hurt’ – Georgia official

Hello, Warren Murray here with a few things you might not know.

William Barr has undermined Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election, with the attorney general and close ally of the president saying the US justice department has not uncovered any wrongdoing that would change the result. Shortly after the comments were made public, a reporter at the White House said Barr was seen entering the building. The Democratic Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said: “I guess he’s the next one to be fired.” Trump campaign lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, once again without offering solid evidence, said Barr was wrong.

Court papers have emerged about an alleged “bribery for pardon” scheme at the White House. The justice department has alleged that an individual offered “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” and two individuals lobbied to secure the pardon. The department said no US government official was the subject or target of the investigation. Meanwhile Trump has reportedly discussed a pre-emptive pardon for Rudy Giuliani.

One of Georgia’s top election officials has accused Trump of “inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence” with his railing against the election results. A visibly angry Gabriel Sterling, a Republican, said that if Trump did not rein in his supporters, “someone is going to get hurt”. Sterling has said he needed police protection around his home because of threats and that the wife of Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, had received “sexualised threats”.

The president-elect, Joe Biden, has formally introduced his top economic advisers and promised: “We’re going to create a recovery for everybody. Our message to everybody struggling right now is this: help is on the way.”

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Vaccine approval nears – Britain is expected to become the first western country to authorise a coronavirus vaccine – possibly as soon as today. Medicines regulator the MHRA will make its decision independently on whether the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can be cleared for emergency use. Britain has ordered 40m doses, of which 10m are expected to be available this year. Boris Johnson last night suffered his worst Commons rebellion as 55 Conservative MPs opposed the new tier system. The measures passed by 291 votes to 78 as Labour abstained. Johnson reportedly personally exhorted MPs to back the government as they filed past him into the voting lobbies. As England comes out of lockdown this morning, are you wondering what tier you are in? Use our postcode checker to find out – and here is what you can and can’t do.

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Midweek catch-up

> A legal bid by two children to prevent imminent deportations by the Home Office was rejected last night. The siblings originally brought the case on behalf of their father who ended up receiving a reprieve in a separate legal action.

> An investigation of the free school meal voucher fiasco, which left families without food during lockdown, has found the government signed £425m in contracts with a company called Edenred despite “limited evidence” of its capacity to deliver.

> Authorities searching for the British hiker Esther Dingley, who went missing on a trail in the Pyrenees, are looking at “other options beyond a mountain accident”, her partner, Dan Colegate, has written online. He said the “prevailing opinion” after extensive searches was that Dingley was not in the mountains.

> Maggie O’Farrell’s story about the short life of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, has been named Waterstones book of the year and praised for its message of “hope through the darkest of times … especially prescient for this turbulent year”.

> China says it has successfully landed a probe on the moon to collect rocks and bring them back to Earth.

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Cultivated chicken – Cultured meat produced without the slaughter of an animal will be allowed to go on sale in Singapore, the first such approval by a regulatory authority. The “chicken bites”, produced by the US company Eat Just, are made from cells grown in a bioreactor and then combined with plant-based ingredients. Though significantly more expensive than conventional chicken until production is scaled up, Eat Just said it would ultimately be cheaper. Dozens of firms are developing cultivated chicken, beef and pork with a view to making meat production more climate-friendly and humane.

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Sea change – Governments responsible for 40% of the world’s coastlines have pledged to end overfishing, restore dwindling fish populations and stop the flow of plastic pollution into the seas in the next 10 years. The countries – Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal – will end harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing, a key demand of campaigners. The countries’ leaders have set out a series of commitments that mark the world’s biggest ocean sustainability initiative, in the absence of a fully fledged UN treaty on marine life. Each country has pledged to ensure all their exclusive economic zones in the ocean are managed sustainably by 2025. That amounts to an area of ocean roughly the size of Africa.

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RAD’s Fonteyn find – Forgotten footage of Dame Margot Fonteyn instilling the joy of dance in young children has been discovered, to the excitement of historians and ballet enthusiasts. The film of Fonteyn with young girls taking their first steps in ballet was found in the archives of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) and will be screened at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London from today. Sixteen millimetre film canisters labelled “Children’s Syllabus” were discovered to contain the footage, made in 1972 by the prima ballerina’s photographer brother Felix.

It had been intended as a training tool but for financial reasons was not released. Today the RAD syllabus is taught in 92 countries, with more than 250,000 young people worldwide taking an RAD ballet exam each year. Fonteyn’s pairing with Rudolf Nureyev remains one of the greatest ballet partnerships in history and she was the RAD’s longest-serving president, from 1954 until her death in 1991.

Today in Focus podcast: The Crown – fact or fiction?

Royal correspondent Jennie Bond, who has covered some of the most dramatic years of the monarchy, discusses whether The Crown is an accurate depiction of palace life.

Lunchtime read: ‘That first walk was just incredible’

The British countryside remains a distinctly white and often intimidating place for BAME communities. We interview three outdoor enthusiasts seeking to address this lack of diversity.

Sport

Curtis Jones scored a clever goal in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Ajax while Caoimhin Kelleher kept a clean sheet after Alisson suffered a hamstring injury before the Champions League game at Anfield. Manchester City won Group C but they were denied by the Porto goalkeeper, Agustín Marchesín, in a 0-0 draw while Gabriel Jesus had a late goal disallowed by VAR for offside. Shakhtar Donetsk completed a shock double over Real Madrid, winning 2-0 in Kyiv to leave Zinedine Zidane’s side at risk of going out in the group stage. Lewis Hamilton is the overwhelming favourite to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award for a second time after being named on the six‑strong shortlist, with Tyson Fury and Ronnie O’Sullivan seen as his closest contenders.

Dawid Malan scored 99 not out off 47 balls as England completed a 3-0 series victory over South Africa in Cape Town to go top of the T20 rankings. Newcastle United’s trip to Aston Villa on Friday has been postponed after the north-east club reported a “significant” rise in positive Covid-19 test results – a number believed to run into double figures. Eddie Jones has called for fewer breaks in play and more consistent refereeing as the best ways to enhance modern rugby union as a spectacle. The Football Association has announced a radical post-Brexit shake‑up that will mean Premier League and EFL clubs cannot sign foreign players until they are 18. And the US women’s national football team have reached an agreement with the US Soccer Federation over equal work conditions with their male counterparts.

Business

Australia has reported its economy expanded 3.3% in the July-September quarter as it recovered from pandemic lockdowns. That lifted Australia out of recession, although in annual terms the economy contracted 3.8% from a year earlier. Renewed talk of a possible US stimulus package has failed to drive major gains in Asia, but a broad rally that pushed the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite to new highs has been felt. The Hang Seng, the Nikkei 225 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 have fallen slightly while South Korea’s Kospi and Shanghai have both gained. Shares have risen in Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia but fallen in Singapore. The FTSE is trending 0.4% lower at time of writing while the pound is worth $1.341 and €1.111 at present.

The papers

The Guardian print edition leads with “PM suffers his biggest Commons defeat as 55 Tories reject tiers”. The picture lead is “Anxious high street shops pin hopes on sales spree”, as the end of shopping restrictions in England hands retailers 23 days to save Christmas. The Express has the PM saying “Buy British and bring festive cheer”. The i says “Major Tory rebellion hits chance of future lockdowns”.

The Sun depicts Michael Gove with “Scotch egg on his face” after having to agree that they constitute a substantial meal for pint-serving purposes. The Times reports “Care homes reopen to visitors” which another paper claims as its own: “Mail wins care home hugs for Christmas”. The Telegraph has “NHS to start providing vaccine within days”, which you can read about here.

The Arcadia story is right up the FT’s alley: “Debenhams failure sends tremors through bricks and mortar retail”. In the Metro the top story is “Throne alone” as the Queen cancels the family Christmas gathering at Sandringham. The Mirror renders this as “Queen and Philip alone at Christmas”.

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