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Sensemaker: Britain’s big moment

Friday 4 June 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • The family of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, arrested in Minsk after his flight to Lithuania was diverted, said he was coerced into confessing crimes and supporting Alexander Lukashenko on state television.
  • Denmark’s parliament passed a law allowing the relocation of asylum seekers to countries outside Europe.
  • A herd of elephants roamed 300 miles across southern China, an unprecedented journey that has mystified researchers.

Britain’s big moment

Finance ministers from the US, Japan, France, Canada, Germany, and Italy are meeting at Lancaster House in London today. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who’s hosting them, said their priorities are “clear”: a green and global recovery from the Covid pandemic, supporting vulnerable countries, and protecting jobs. But the real beef is a global agreement on digital taxation.

  • Last April, the UK introduced a digital services tax on tech companies. It levied 2 per cent on the revenues made by firms like Facebook or Google that were derived in the UK. The tax, expected to raise £700 million, was designed to stop tech firms from avoiding taxes by booking profits earned domestically in low- or zero-tax jurisdictions. 
  • The big tech firms do this a lot. A Microsoft subsidiary in Ireland, for example, just booked a profit of £222 billion but paid no corporation tax on it because it’s “resident” in Bermuda.
  • The US called the digital services tax “unreasonable” and “discriminatory”, and launched an investigation. It concluded on Wednesday when the US announced 25 per cent tariffs on about £1.4 billion of imports, including certain goods from the UK, in retaliation for the tax. But it immediately suspended the tariffs for 180 days to allow for the Lancaster House G7 talks and a G20 meeting in July.

Sunak told the press he’s “confident” of reaching a global agreement on digital taxation. His Lancaster House meetings will be a key test of the UK’s post-Brexit diplomatic clout. The Telegraph (£), which supported Brexit, expresses it as “Britain’s big moment”, as it “looks to turn the tables on US tech titans”. It bigs-up Sunak’s “spearheading efforts” and “face-to-face” meetings.

Let’s see. Even if there’s an agreement between Sunak and his G7 counterparts, other countries – like Ireland – will block a truly global agreement because low corporation taxes are key to their economies.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Lab leak
Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, called on China to release the medical records of nine people whose illnesses may indicate whether Covid came from a lab leak in comments to the Financial Times (£). The records concern three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who reportedly became sick in November 2019 and six miners who fell ill after entering a bat cave in 2012. Three of the miners died. The lab leak theory gained momentum after prominent scientists signed a letter arguing it should be taken seriously. Last week, Biden ordered US intelligence services to find what started the pandemic within 90 days. Fauci continues to believe the coronavirus was first transmitted to humans from animals. Even if the lab researchers had Covid, he argued, they could have got it from the wider population. But Fauci believes the lab leak warrants further investigation because of the renewed public interest.


New things technology, science, engineering

Concordia
Never mind all the post-pandemic talk of fewer flights and the decline of air travel. US carrier United Airlines said it wants to bring back the era of civilian supersonic flight, almost 20 years after it ended with the retirement of Concorde. It ordered 15 aircraft capable of flying faster than the speed of sound – from a start-up in Denver called Boom Supersonic. Each Overture aircraft cost $200 million, will carry up to 88 passengers, and may fly passengers as early as 2029. London to the US east coast? Three and a half hours. San Francisco to Tokyo? Six hours. We’re building back faster.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Delta wave
The “Indian” variant of coronavirus became the dominant strain in the UK, overtaking the “Kent” variant. Their names have been changed, respectively, to the Delta and Alpha variants. Laboratory analysis found cases of the Delta variant rose by 79 per cent last week to 12,431 with cases concentrated in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen in the north of England. Recent data from Public Health England shows it has begun spreading in schools. People infected by the Delta variant are twice as likely to need hospital care. Over the same period, 94 people in England were admitted to hospital after attending A&E with the variant. The majority had not yet been vaccinated, which cuts the risk of serious illness, but 6 per cent had had both jabs.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Shrinking whales
Right whales, or black whales, are becoming smaller in size than earlier generations of their species. Research published in the journal Current Biology suggested that human-induced stressors, primarily entanglements with fishing gear, are stunting their growth, reducing their reproductive potential, and increasing their chances of dying. Scientists, who have been monitoring the whales for the past 40 years, fear they won’t be around much longer unless these stressors are reduced.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

California reparations
An unprecedented task force began studying reparations for African Americans in California. The nine members, appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom and legislators, include lawyers, civil rights activists, academics and politicians who are the descendants of slaves. Over the next two years, they will determine the depth of the harms of slavery and systematic racism. African Americans make up just 6 per cent of California’s population yet represented 30 per cent of an estimated 250,000 people experiencing homelessness who sought help in 2020. “We have lost more than we have ever taken from this country,” task force member and state Senator Steven Bradford said. “We have given more than has ever been given to us.” Will the Southern States follow suit?

Thanks for reading, and please share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Photographs by Getty Images


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