Downing Street push to send asylum seekers abroad

a bench in front of 10 Downing Street: Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Top story: ‘Significant political and logistical obstacles’

Hello and welcome to this Thursday briefing with me, Alison Rourke.

Downing Street has asked officials to consider the option of sending asylum seekers to Moldova, Morocco or Papua New Guinea to be held in offshore detention centres, according to documents seen by the Guardian. The Foreign Office (FCO) was asked by No 10 to “offer advice on possible options for negotiating an offshore asylum processing facility similar to the Australian model in Papua New Guinea and Nauru”. But the FCO’s advice appeared highly dismissive of the idea, warning of “significant political and logistical obstacles” to sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea. It said it was “highly unlikely” that Morocco would agree to hosting asylum seekers and that Moldova had “endemic” corruption. Plans to process asylum seekers at offshore centres in Ascension or St Helena would be “extremely expensive and logistically complicated” given the remoteness of the islands, the documents said. A Whitehall source familiar with the government plans said the proposals were part of a slate of new policies that would “discourage” and “deter” migrants from entering the UK illegally. Australia’s offshore processing regime has been widely criticised by human rights groups. Graham Thom from Amnesty International Australia said the system was both “in breach of international law” and “hugely expensive”.

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‘Severe disruption to services’ – Tens of thousands could die because the NHS suspended such a large proportion of normal care to focus on tackling Covid-19, MPs have warned. Illnesses that went undetected or untreated included cancer and heart disease, the Commons health and social care committee has said. “We’ve heard of severe disruption to services, especially cancer, and here we could be looking at tens of thousands of avoidable deaths within a year,” said the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the cross-party select committee. Once the lockdown began on 23 March, GP urgent referrals for cancer fell by 62%, the number of MRI and CT scans to diagnose the disease plummeted by 75% and by mid-May, 36,000 cancer operations had been cancelled. It comes after the PM confronted critics critics of his coronavirus strategy on Wednesday, insisting there was “only one way of doing this” and that he was not willing to simply “let the virus take its course”.

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US election – Joe Biden has broken fundraising records following the acrimonious presidential debate, raising $3.8m in an hour, according to his campaign manager. Biden said his opponent’s performance was a “national embarrassment”, calling out his refusal to denounce white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys. Meanwhile, Donald Trump gloated over the unedifying TV spectacle’s ratings in a rally speech on Wednesday night in Minnesota. But the Commission on Presidential Debates seemed more concerned about the remaining two debates, issuing a surprise statement saying it would soon announce “additional structure … to the format of the remaining debates, to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues”.

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‘There’s a drive to destroy the BBC’ – Andrew Marr says the broadcaster is in a “dangerous place at the moment” amid a “drive to destroy” the corporation. He cites the Murdoch empire and others who want to “push us towards a world in which the BBC is pretty marginal and people are getting most of their news and their views from privately funded television companies, as in America.” He says this is a “very difficult moment” for the new director general, Tim Davie, who made headlines last month over a crackdown on staff posting their views on social media, saying the BBC urgently needed to “champion and recommit to impartiality”. In an interview with the Guardian, Marr also reflects on how his stroke has changed him, interviewing Boris Johnson and what he thinks of the rumours Charles Moore could be the corporation’s new chairman.

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Period health – Women’s periods could act as a barometer for general health, with irregular menstruation and longer cycles associated with greater risk of dying before the age of 70, according to study in the British Medical Journal. After accounting for factors such as age, weight, lifestyle and family medical history, the study found that women who reported always having irregular menstrual cycles or cycles usually lasting longer than 40 days were at greater risk of premature death than women with very regular cycles, or ones that usually lasted 26 to 31 days. For women aged 29-46, those with irregular periods were 39% more likely to die prematurely than women reporting very regular cycles, the study suggested. “This study is a real step forward in closing the data gap that exists in women’s health,” said Dr Jacqueline Maybin, from the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health in Edinburgh. However, she stressed that irregular menstruation was a symptom and not a diagnosis.

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Warm nights – The climate crisis is heating up nights faster than days in many parts of the world, according to the first worldwide assessment of how global heating is differently affecting times of day. The findings have “profound consequences” for wildlife and their ability to adapt to the climate emergency, the researchers said, and for the ability of people to cool off at night during dangerous heatwaves. The changes, published in the journal Global Change Biology, are the result of global heating causing changes to clouds. Where cloud cover increases, sunlight is blocked during the day but the clouds retain more heat and humidity at night, like a blanket.

Today in Focus podcast: Has Covid-19 turned the clock back on women’s equality?

Women are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout and taking on a greater share of domestic work and childcare. Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff looks at whether the virus has meant a huge step back for women’s rights.

a person sitting in a room: Has working from home during Covid turned the clock back on women’s equality? Photograph: Belinda Howell/Getty Images

© Provided by The Guardian
Has working from home during Covid turned the clock back on women’s equality? Photograph: Belinda Howell/Getty Images

Lunchtime read: As Black History Month begins … the hero who helped desegregate Britain

In 1964, Paul Stephenson walked into the Bay Horse pub in Bristol and ordered half a pint. A bartender served him, but when the pub’s manager noticed, he told Stephenson to get out, saying: “We don’t want you black people in here – you are a nuisance.” Stephenson refused, and the police were called. Eight officers arrived to arrest him and he was held in police cells until midnight. Looking back, the 83-year-old says that the arrival of so many officers was the police sending a message about upholding the colour bar – because “they knew I was a civil rights activist”. His subsequent trial became national news. At the start of Black History Month, Stephenson tells how he has used prejudice to his advantage, confronted racism and how his fight for justice in Britain garnered international attention.

You can read the Guardian’s coverage of Black History Month here, including Steve McQueen and Bernadine Evaristo being named among “100 great black Britons”, Keir Starmer on why students should learn more black British history, and Black women taking over the Instagram accounts of 70 prominent white women, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham, as part of a campaign to amplify black female voices and work.


Manchester United were 3-0 winners over Brighton but their second-string struggled to convince as they moved into the last eight of the Carabao Cup. There were also wins for Manchester City against Burnley and Everton over West Ham, while Newcastle needed penalties to overcome Newport. Valérie Gauvin scored Everton’s third goal in a 3-0 Women’s FA Cup semi-final win over Birmingham. London Irish were mightily relieved to have snaffled their first Premiership win at Exeter in 10 attempts while Bristol thrashed Leicester but will need help to reach the play-offs. With play delayed due to rain, the final match of the England-West Indies series descended into a five-over-a-side hit-out which England’s women won by three wickets. Eliud Kipchoge has rejected suggestions that the next generation of game-changing Nike shoes violates the spirit of sport, even though he has conceded that they could give him a major advantage in Sunday’s London Marathon. An achilles heel injury picked up at the US Open has forced Serena Williams to pull out of the French grand slam. And Europe’s top five football leagues have spent more than £2.5bn during the transfer window, with more than £1bn of that coming from the Premier League, despite the financial restraints forced on clubs by the coronavirus pandemic.


More than a third of UK employers plan to make staff redundant over the next three months, according to research warning of a cascade of job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With a month to go until the end of the government furlough scheme on 31 October, 37% of more than 2,000 managers polled by YouGov said they were likely to make staff redundant by the end of the year. About 60% of the managers surveyed from larger businesses with more than 250 employees said their companies planned to make redundancies this year. It comes as pubs, bars and restaurants reported sales have dived following the 10pm limit imposed in England, Wales and Scotland. Takings at 7,000 venues on Friday were 37% below the corresponding Friday in 2019, according to the industry analysts CGA.

In Asia, trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange was suspended on Thursday because of a problem in the system for relaying market information. It was unclear when it would be resolved.

The pound is buying €1.10 and $1.29.

The papers

Both the Guardian and the Times splash on asylum seeker revelations: “Revealed: No 10 plan to send asylum seekers to Moldova” and “Floating asylum centres planned on retired ferries” are the headlines respectively.

The FT and the Telegraph both lead on coronavirus stories with: “Johnson ‘will not hesitate’ to impose new Covid restrictions”, and: “Johnson tells his lockdown critics: There is only one way of doing this”. You can read the Guardian’s take on that story here.

The tabloids also lead on coronavirus. The Mirror carries a large picture of the PM’s father shopping without a mask. “So when’s your dad getting fined then, Boris?” is its headline. The Express carries a pictures of crowds of people outdoors and the headline: “Wake up! We’re going in the wrong direction”. The Mail compares the upbeat Bank of England chief economist, Andy Haldane, with the PM: “Mr Boom v Mr Doom”. The i has: “Downing St accepts need for simpler virus rules”.

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