Five things you need to know today: EU set to reject Boris Johnson’s demands over backstop

Plus, Twitter and Facebook remove China-backed accounts, government holding £28m in student loan overpayments and Epstein found to have signed will two days before death. 

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Johnson demands abolition of "anti-democratic" Irish backstop

Boris Johnson has formally demanded the removal of the “anti-democratic” and “unviable” Irish backstop from the EU withdrawal agreement. In a four-page letter to European Council president Donald Tusk (analysed here by NS political correspondent Patrick Maguire), Johnson argued that the arrangement – designed to prevent a new hard border – was “inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK” and risked “weakening the delicate balance” of the Good Friday Agreement. The Prime Minister suggested that “alternative arrangements” could be put in place before the end of a two-year transitional period and said the UK was “ready to look constructively and flexibly at what commitments might help” if this was not possible. The EU, which has consistently stated that the backstop is non-negotiable, is expected to unambiguously reject Johnson’s demands. 

State-backed Chinese accounts removed by Twitter and Facebook

Twitter and Facebook have removed nearly a thousand accounts in an attempt to thwart what they described as a state-backed Chinese misinformation campaign against Hong Kong protesters. “Covert, manipulative behaviors have no place on our service – they violate the fundamental principles on which our company is built,” Twitter said in a statement. The company removed 936 accounts and suspended around 200,000, while Facebook, having been advised by Twitter, said that it had “removed seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts.”

Government found to be holding £28m in student loan overpayments

More than £28m in overpayments on student loans in England are being held by the government, researchers have found. Figures from the Student Loans Company (SLC), obtained by Research Professional News, show that between 2009/10 and 2017/18, a total of £307,821,092 was overpaid by university graduates (with £28,460,095 not yet refunded). Over that period, 513,134 people in total had overpaid, with an average repayment of £597. The SLC said that it has tried to “proactively contact all customers that have over-repaid”. 

Epstein signed will just two days before death

Jeffrey Epstein signed a will two days before killing himself in his New York prison cell, new court records have shown. Papers filed last week in the US Virgin Islands valued the estate of the late financier and convicted paedophile at more than $577m, including $56m in cash. The 66-year-old was found to have died of “suicide by hanging” on 10 August while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.

City of London proposes new skyscraper rules to prevent dangerous winds

The City of London has drawn up strict new planning restrictions for skyscrapers over concerns that they could create winds capable of knocking over cyclists and pedestrians. Developers who want to construct buildings higher than 8ft will be required to show that they will not cause problematic wind conditions at street level. The City will also reduce the wind levels deemed acceptable under the rules, reclassifying average speeds of more than 8 metres per second (18mph) as “uncomfortable” in all circumstances.

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