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Boris Johnson apologises for Downing Street video but insists no Christmas party was held a PMQs live

Latest updates: Boris Johnson says he understands fury over leaked video but insists no rules were broken

Downing Street sources are saying this morning that ano decisions have been madea on a move to plan B. But, frankly, an FT story carries more credibility in the Westminster media village.

Ben Riley-Smith, the Telegraph political editor, thinks the timing of such a move would be suspicious.

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Ministers expected to sign off plan B Covid rules for England

Rules on home working and vaccine certification likely to be among changes brought in to tackle Omicron surge

Ministers are expected to sign off new rules to impose home working and vaccine certification across England in the face of rising Covid cases, the Guardian understands.

Downing Street said no final decisions had been made but ministers and officials convened on Wednesday to move to plan B and to begin
imposing some restrictions as early as Wednesday night.

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Olaf Scholz elected to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor

Former Hamburg mayor secures 395 of 736 delegatesa ballots in parliamentary vote

Olaf Scholz will succeed Angela Merkel as Germanyas new chancellor after securing a majority of 395 of 736 delegatesa ballots in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday morning.

Scholz will oversee a liberal-left atraffic lighta coalition government between his Social Democratic party (SPD), the Greens and the liberal Free Democratic party (FDP), the first power-sharing agreement of such a kind in Germany, and the first governing alliance with three parties since 1957.

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Lewis Hamiltonas Mercedes team ends deal with Grenfell firm

F1 sponsorship with cladding maker Kingspan terminated after one grand prix amid widespread criticism

The Mercedes Formula One team has ended its sponsorship deal with a firm that made combustible insulation used on Grenfell Tower after outrage from bereaved friends and relatives, the survivors and the UK government.

The team, whose main driver is the current champion Lewis Hamilton, terminated its shortlived partnership with Kingspan after just one grand prix in which the logo of the firm that made some of the foam boards used on the tower was emblazoned on the nose cone of cars driven by Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

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Best physical evidence of Roman crucifixion found in Cambridgeshire

Near 1,900-year-old skeleton discovered with nail through heel bone during excavation in Fenstanton

Found at the site of a future housing development in Cambridgeshire, the near 1,900-year-old skeleton at first did not seem particularly remarkable.

Aged 25 to 35 at the time of death, the man had been buried with his arms across his chest in a grave with a wooden structure, possibly a bier, at one of five cemeteries around a newly discovered Roman settlement at Fenstanton, between Roman Cambridge and Godmanchester.

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National Trust to fell at least 30,000 trees hit by ash dieback

Charity warns of acatastrophica increase in tree and plant disease because of climate breakdown

At least 30,000 ash trees are due to be felled by the National Trust this year at a cost of APS3m due to dieback, as the charity warns of a acatastrophica increase in tree and plant disease because of climate breakdown.

Changing weather patterns are expected to cause pests and diseases that destroy trees to thrive, which could bring dramatic change to British landscapes.

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M&S abelievea Christmas jumper becomes anew uniforma for UK clergy

Marks & Spenceras APS19.50 black jumper is unexpected hit with female priests

Itas a job that comes with a range of uniform options: dog collars, cassocks, surplices, albs, tippets and chasubles, all available from good clerical outfitters. But clergy are now snapping a new item from an unexpected source a Marks & Spencer.

The retaileras womenas black jumper with the word aBelievea emblazoned in bold colours is a hit with female priests, leading one Church of England bishop to describe it as athe new clergy uniforma.

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China accuses Australia of apolitical posturinga over diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Scott Morrison says athletes will compete in next yearas Games because sport and politics should not mix

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has confirmed Australian officials will not attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, joining the United States in a diplomatic boycott of next yearas Games and prompting accusations from Beijing of political posturing.

Morrison told reporters in Sydney it was anot surprisinga, given the deterioration in the diplomatic relationship between Australia and China, that officials would not attend next yearas winter Games.

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UK man accused of running over his wife to stand trial in France

Former Dorset local councillor David Turtle is alleged to have killed his wife, Stephanie, outside their home in Prayssac

A former British local councillor accused of killing his wife by ploughing into her with his car will go on trial in France on Wednesday.

David Turtle is alleged to have accelerated his Mercedes at his wife, Stephanie, outside their home in south-west France, crushing her under the vehicle after a row.

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Whoops and grunts: abizarrea fish songs raise hopes for coral reef recovery

Vibrant soundscape shows Indonesian reef devastated by blast fishing is returning to health

From whoops to purrs, snaps to grunts, and foghorns to laughs, a cacophony of bizarre fish songs have shown that a coral reef in Indonesia has returned rapidly to health.

Many of the noises had never been recorded before and the fish making these calls remain mysterious, despite the use of underwater speakers to try to atalka to some.

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Swampy on tunnels, bailiffs and 25 years of protest: aWe need to stop capitalists destroying the planeta

He became a household name in the 90s, then disappeared from view. But he never stopped protesting. Now the man known as the human mole is busier than ever

Dan works in forestry. Clare is a school counsellor. Recently, they took their youngest son to a superhero film. Their middle son loves football. They miss their eldest, Rory, who left home a few months ago.

The Hoopers are much like any other family with three children, or they would be if Dan did not have an unusual superpower. He is the best DIY digger of tunnels in the country. And for a quarter of a century he has burrowed passageways into the paths of new roads, runways and railways that destroy the countryside and add to spiralling carbon emissions and global heating. In this strange underland, Dan has another name: Swampy.

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Steven Spielberg on making West Side Story with Stephen Sondheim: aI called him SS1!a

The legendary director used to get scolded by his parents for singing its songs at the dinner table. As his version hits the big screen, he talks about his own dancefloor prowess a and the aobscure movie cluba he formed with Sondheim

Itas a winter afternoon and youare about to begin a video call with Steven Spielberg. The perfect opportunity, then, to make a quick brew in your Gremlins mug (Spielberg produced that devilish 1984 horror-comedy) then brandish it in front of the webcam for the directoras benefit. aOh, I love that, thank you,a he says, chuckling softly. Then he wags a cautionary finger: aDonat drink it after midnight!a

The most famous and widely cherished film-maker in history is all twinkling eyes and gee-whiz charm today. He is about to turn 75 but first there is the release of his muscular new take on West Side Story, which marks his third collaboration with the playwright Tony Kushner, who also scripted Munich and Lincoln. Spielberg is at pains to point out that this not a remake of the Oscar-laden movie but a reimagining of the original stage musical. aI never would have dared go near it had it only been a film,a he says. aBut, because itas constantly being performed across the globe, I didnat feel I was claim-jumping on my friend Robert Wiseas 1961 movie.a

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James Bond: acclaimed writers explain how they would reinvent 007

Producer Barbara Broccoli has not yet decided how Bond will return in the next film a but here are some ideas

There are few commercial principles more reliable than this: there will always be another James Bond movie.

It isnat always easy to see how heall get to where heas going next a and the franchiseas producer, Barbara Broccoli, isnat sure either.

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One toyas journey through the supply chain crisis: from Chinese factory to UK childas stocking

Will your Christmas gifts arrive in time? We track the shortages and supply chain blockages that will affect the festive season this year

This year, as children around the world write their Christmas lists, Santa has more to consider than whether they have been naughty or nice. Some of the seasonas most popular items, from bikes to the Nintendo Switch, are in short supply across the UK, Europe and US.

To see whatas going on, we follow an imaginary toy from factory to Christmas tree to illustrate the pinch points in the manufacture and supply chain that will affect presents this year.

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The inner lives of cats: what our feline friends really think about hugs, happiness and humans

They do what they want, all the time a and can teach us a lot about how to live in the present, be content and learn from our experience

I wanted to know the exact amount of time I spend ruminating on the inner lives of my cats, so I did what most people do in times of doubt, and consulted Google. According to my search history, in the two years since I became a cat owner I have Googled variations of acat love me a how do I tell?a and ais my cat happya 17 times. I have also inadvertently subscribed to cat-related updates from the knowledge website Quora, which emails me a daily digest. (Sample: Can Cats Be Angry or Disappointed With Their Owner?)

How do I love my cats? Let me count the ways. The clean snap of three-year-old Larryas jaw as he contemplates me with detached curiosity is my favourite sound in the world. I love the tenor and cadence of my six-month-old kitten Kedias miaows as he follows me around the house. (High-pitched indignant squeaks means he wants food; lower-pitched chirrups suggest he would like to play.) I love the weight of Larry on my feet at night and the scratchy caress of Kedias tongue on my eyelid in the morning.

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How Nairobias aroad for the richa resulted in thousands of homes reduced to rubble

40,000 people in one of the largest slums in the Kenyan capital have had their homes demolished to make way for works for a Chinese-backed toll road, with some asking: athis is development for who?a

About 40,000 people have been made homeless by demolition works for a major Chinese-backed toll road in Kenyaas capital, Nairobi.

Amnesty International Kenya says it believes the roadworks have created a humanitarian crisis, as schools, businesses and 13,000 homes spread across nearly 40 hectares (100 acres) of the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum have been demolished since October, clearing land for a link to the Nairobi expressway.

A girl stands among the rubble of Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum, Nairobi, where 13,000 homes were razed to the ground

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Charley Pride: how the US country star became an unlikely hero during the Troubles

Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash cancelled gigs in Belfast during the violent 1970s, but Pride played on a and, with his song Crystal Chandeliers, became a sensation in the north and the Republic

When Charley Pride arrived in Belfast in early November 1976, the Northern Irish capital was at war. There were almost daily reports of shootings of civilians and soldiers on both sides of the sectarian divide. An armistice movement, the Peace People, had materialised that summer after three children were fatally struck by an IRA getaway car.

Someone else intent on restoring normality to Belfast during the bloody 70s was Jim Aiken. This enterprising former schoolteacher-turned-concert promoter wanted to turn Northern Ireland into a second home for American country music a and rightfully so, since the Ulster Scots folk tradition was an essential ancestor of the genre. Aiken had invited over artists such as Buck Owens and Tex Ritter. Next, he had his heart set on Pride, the singer who found success as a Black artist in a roots genre that had come to be dominated by white artists.

I never did fit in too well with folks you knew

And itas plain to see that the likes of me donat fit with you

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Mud, glorious mud: restored ditches bring birds flocking back to Norfolk wetlands

Jake Fiennes is putting wildlife back into the farmed landscape, showing how nature can be at the heart of post-Brexit reforms

From the driveras seat of his pickup truck, Jake Fiennes points to the dark green strips of grass that betray the location of a dried-out saltwater creek system on the Holkham estate in Norfolk. If the early autumn rains allow, a rotary ditcher dragged by a tractor will soon score shallow channels in the sandy soil to excavate many of the old waterways. Fiennes, the estateas conservation director, and his wardens, Andy and Paul, will then fill them with standing water from the siteas chalk aquifers, part of a plan to transform dozens of fields into grazing wetlands on the 10,000-hectare (25,000-acre) farm and nature reserve.

Fiennes is certain that next spring will see yet more lapwings, avocets and other rare wetland birds thriving in the mud on the edges of the channels a known as field drains a in the habitat they share with a herd of about 800 cattle.

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Omicron can partially evade Covid vaccine protection, study finds

Findings suggest boosting antibodies can compensate for jabs being less well matched than to earlier variants

The Omicron variant of coronavirus can partially evade the protection of vaccines and previous infection, according to one of the first laboratory studies into the matter.

However, the findings suggest immune escape is anot completea, which means that boosting antibodies can compensate for vaccines being less well matched to Omicron than to earlier versions of the virus. Scientists said that while the clinical implications were yet to be confirmed, the findings strongly supported the idea that booster vaccinations would be effective.

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Covid live: over-40s in England now eligible for booster after three months; South Korea surge sparks alarm

Millions of over-40s in England can book a top-up jab from today; South Korea PM Kim Boo-kyum says hospital capacity under strain as cases rise

Germany reported 69,601 cases of Covid-19 and 527 deaths in the past 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute, taking the total cases in the country to 6,291,621. There have been 104,047 deaths.

South Korean authorities are urging people to get vaccinated as case rise in the east Asian nation generally regarded as having dealth with the pandemic well.

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A booster may help protect you from Omicron a but it wonat end the pandemic | Charlotte Summers

Itas important to know how boosters work, but they must not impede the push towards worldwide vaccination

First there was Alpha, then Beta, Gamma and Delta. Now, thanks to the tremendous efforts of scientists in sub-Saharan Africa, the world is getting to grips with the Omicron variant. This new variant of Covid-19 has a number of mutations that distinguish it from previous ones, raising concerns among scientists that the vaccines we are currently using may not remain as effective against it. In response, the UKas Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that all over-18s in Britain should be able to get a Covid booster shot, as long as three months have elapsed since their last vaccine.

The logic behind boosters is that ensuring the UK population has a high level of immunity will reduce the number of people requiring hospitalisation or dying as a result of the spread of Omicron. This is based on the hope that it is unlikely the vaccines we are currently using will be totally ineffective against the new variant, but it is too early to be definitive about this.

Dr Charlotte Summers is a lecturer in intensive care medicine at the University of Cambridge

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Tell us: if the UK government said you should lockdown, would you be willing?

We would like to hear whether you would be willing to lockdown now in light of allegations about Covid rules being broken last year

After a leaked video of No 10 officials joking about a lockdown Christmas party last year that Downing Street insists did not take place, the prime minister is facing fresh accusations of lying.

On the 18 December, the date that sources have said the party took place, there were strict Covid regulations in place, and it would have contravened the rules.

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On the day government staff were at a party, I spoke to my mum for the last time | Daisy Harris

While she was dying in a hospice, separated from her family, Downing Street staff were taking us for idiots

Today we are hearing a lot about what was apparently happening in Downing Street on Friday 18 December; a party in total contravention of the coronavirus restrictions imposed on the rest of us. Let me tell you how I spent that day.

I was 15 when my mum and dad came home from a aprecautionarya brain scan in August 2016 to tell me and my sister that my mum had a terminal brain tumour.

Daisy Harris is a student

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Boris Johnsonas awar on judgesa is a fiction a the truth is, it is an attack on all of us | Gina Miller

Judicial review provides justice for ordinary citizens. It must be protected from a populist fervour that would damage Britain

There is one thing that Boris Johnson and I actually agree on, and it is that courts and judges should never be used to aconduct politics by another meansa, as he said in his election manifesto and again in a 2020 speech. But what Johnson proposed on Monday with his interpretation bill a which would make it possible for the government to strike out findings from judicial reviews that he and his ministers disagree with a would make our courts overtly and dangerously political.

A judicial review allows judges to examine the lawfulness of an action taken by a public body, they are often initiated by citizens or civil society groups to hold government to account. The cases that I brought against Johnsonas and Theresa Mayas governments, challenging their right to make policy without parliamentary approval, and further to prorogue parliament, were cited as his excuse for asserting aparliamentary sovereigntya over aan unelected judiciarya.

Gina Miller is a businesswoman and transparency campaigner who took legal action to prevent Boris Johnson proroguing parliament

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As we look away, Boris Johnson is grabbing more power. Where is the opposition? | George Monbiot

The government is adding terrifying amendments to the policing bill, putting the UK on a path to dictatorship

Whenever you watch a documentary about a dictatoras path to power, there comes a moment when you think: aWhy didnat people do something? They could have stopped him while there was still time.a We have now reached this moment. As Boris Johnson rams yet more powers into the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, a vaguely democratic nation is sliding towards autocracy.

It was bad enough when I wrote about this legislation last week. After the bill had mostly passed through parliament and could be properly debated, the government slipped in a series of terrifying amendments. By curtailing the right to protest, it already amounted to the most oppressive legislation tabled by a government of this country since the end of the second world war.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

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My Christmas wish? Nobody comments on my body | Maeve Higgins

My true objective is not to hate my body and not to worship it either. The less we speak about bodies, the better

The holidays are coming, and I am ready. I finally know what to say when somebody tells me I look great, that I look like Iave lost weight, that my skin looks good. I will quote Jonah Hill, the actor and producer, who wrote on Instagram, aI know you mean well but I kindly ask that you not comment on my body. Good or bad I want to politely let you know itas not helpful and doesnat feel good. Much respect.a

Do you think that will work? Iam not sure. This new policy may upset people. They could feel defensive because their intentions are pure. They donat realize what happens in my head when the subject of my body comes up; the shock of remembering that I have or perhaps simply am a body.

Maeve Higgins is a Guardian US columnist and the author of the forthcoming book Tell Everyone on This Train I Love Them

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Helping refugees starving in Polandas icy border forests is illegal a but itas not the real crime | Anna Alboth

The asylum seekers on the Poland-Belarus border are not aggressors: they are desperate pawns in a disgusting political struggle

One thought is a constant in my head: aI have kids at home, I cannot go to jail, I cannot go to jail.a The politics are beyond my reach or that of the victims on the Poland-Belarus border. It involves outgoing German chancellor, Angela Merkel, getting through to Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus. Itas ironic that this border has more than 50 media crews gathered, yet Poland is the only place in the EU where journalists cannot freely report.

Meanwhile, the harsh north European winter is closing in and my fingers are freezing in the dark snowy nights.

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Why doesnat Biden mail free Covid tests to all Americans? | Ross Barkan

In the United States, testing varies widely by city, county and state. In the UK, tests are free and sent to your home, as it should be

On Monday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, boasted about the Biden administrationas coronavirus testing apparatus. aWeave quadrupled the size of our testing plan. Weave cut the cost significantly over the last few months,a Psaki told reporters, noting Americans will now be able to get the costs of tests reimbursed by their private insurers.

aWhy not make them free and give them out everywhere?a a reporter asked.

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Elon Musk is learning a hard lesson: never date a musician | Arwa Mahdawi

The SpaceX billionaire has found himself immortalised in song by his ex, Grimes. It may be unflattering, but given the kind of insults he often doles out, heas getting off lightly

Elon Musk, it seems, prioritises building spaceships over maintaining relationships. In September, the thrice-divorced billionaire told reporters that his work at SpaceX and Tesla was a big reason why he had split from Grimes, his musician girlfriend. In her latest single, Player of Games, Grimes appears to have confirmed this. aIam in love with the greatest gamer,a she sings, abut heall always love the game more than he loves me a| Sail away to the cold expanse of space, even love couldnat keep you in your place.a

The lyrics have prompted headlines about her ashadinga Musk with a aspicy diga, but I reckon the guy got off lightly. She could have been far ruder, particularly considering Muskas record with dishing out insults.

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Whether in Britain or Afghanistan, Johnsonas government fails and fails again | Rafael Behr

A whistleblower has revealed Foreign Office chaos over the fall of Kabul, and highlighted the incompetence we see every day

To someone in a remote place, cut off by hostile weather, a friendly face in uniform might be a welcome sight, although not as welcome as the lights coming back on. About 300 armed forces personnel have been on manoeuvres in rural parts of north-east England and Scotland, checking on vulnerable people in the aftermath of Storm Arwen and, according to the Ministry of Defence, aproviding reassurancea.

In a more tyrannical regime that phrase, coupled with the image of soldiers going door to door, would have a sinister ring. In Britain it is uncontroversial, which is not necessarily a sign of healthy politics. Deployment of the military to bail out civil authorities should not be taboo, but nor should it be routine.

Rafael Behr is a Guardian columnist

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