/Friday briefing: No holds Barred rebuke to Trump

Friday briefing: No holds Barred rebuke to Trump

Top story: ‘I’m not going to be bullied’

Hello, Warren Murray with you as we find ourselves crashing into the end of another week.

The US attorney general, William Barr, has publicly rebuked Donald Trump, saying the president’s tweets about the case of Roger Stone “make it impossible for me to do my job”. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,” said Barr, in the wake of the justice department intervening in Stone’s case after the president vented his anger about the severity of the sentence being sought. “I’m gonna do what I think is right,” Barr added. “And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

Observers were sceptical about Barr’s bullish stance, given that he presented a watered-down assessment of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation findings to shield the president. An Obama-era justice department official, Matthew Miller, wrote that Barr was telling Trump that if he “would just shut up, Barr could take care of him much more effectively”. The White House said Barr had a right to his opinion. The Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, told Fox News: “If the attorney general says it’s getting in the way of doing his job, the president should listen to the attorney general.”

Cummings and goings – The modest reshuffle that quickly escalated into high drama has left Boris Johnson with control of the Treasury, Heather Stewart writes this morning. Sajid Javid threw the job back in the PM’s face after being told that in order to remain as chancellor he must sack his advisers. Javid said he didn’t believe “any self-respecting minister would accept such conditions”. Swiftly replaced by Rishi Sunak, Javid has become the shortest-serving chancellor in 50 years.

Sajid Javid: ‘Any self-respecting minister’ would reject PM’s demands – video

The prime minister’s new cabinet includes some intriguing choices: a leader for the Cop26 talks who has only said “climate” six times in parliament; an attorney general who supported the illegal prorogation of parliament, and thinks human rights have gone too far; and an international development secretary who questions the value of foreign aid. Our editorial concludes: “This is the sixth different Tory-led government since 2010 … a government beholden to one man, Mr Johnson, and to his grey eminence, Mr Cummings.”

China ramps up war with Covid-19 – Chinese authorities have expanded “wartime” measures to combat coronavirus as deaths reached nearly 1,400 and more than 5,000 new cases were reported. In Huanggang – one of the worst-hit areas outside of Wuhan – and Dawu county in central Hubei, authorities gave orders “fully sealing” all residential areas and banning private use of vehicles. American officials, though, have questioned whether China is being honest in its sharing of information on the outbreak. In Japan, the first Covid-19 fatality – a woman in her 80s – has been recorded and there are indications the virus might be spreading there after several other people with no recent connection to China tested positive. UK experts have warned that fake news and advice about the Covid-19 virus could cost lives. Prof Paul Hunter from East Anglia University said: “Worryingly, people are more likely to share bad advice on social media than good advice from trusted sources.” Find out more at our live blog.

Racism in medical schools – Black, Asian and minority ethnic trainee doctors are experiencing a “climate of fear” at medical schools amid a failure to address widespread racism, according to the British Medical Association. Its investigation with the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found medical schools were ill-prepared to deal with racism against students. Of the 32 medical schools that responded to freedom of information requests, only half said they kept specific record of racism complaints. Gurdas Singh, co-chair of the BMA’s medical students committee, said the most common racist incidents included patients refusing to be treated by BAME people, and female black medical students being mistaken for nurses. The BMA has launched a charter for medical schools that offers guidance for students on how to get support and calls for dedicated procedures to handle racism complaints.

Chatbot sex sting – Anti-slavery campaigners have used chatbots to disrupt sex trafficking by drawing thousands of men into online conversations and then confronting them with messages to deter them from buying sex online. Seattle Against Slavery said it led to a 50% decline in the city for online searches with keywords such as “teen escort”. The bots had about 19,000 conversations with 15,000 people. The campaign also involved placing more than 2m Google adverts warning people of the risks of buying sex online.

Play it again – A music fan has been reunited with a cassette tape she lost while on holiday 25 years ago after it was found by an artist and made into an exhibition piece. Stella Wedell was 12 when, during a Spanish holiday, she lost the tape containing songs by the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Shaggy and Bob Marley.

Stella Wedell on holiday in Spain in the early 1990s

Stella Wedell on holiday in Spain in the early 1990s. Photograph: Stella Wedell/PA

She was astounded to spot it a quarter of a century later in a touring exhibition called Sea of Artifacts by the British artist and photographer Mandy Barker, who found it washed up on Lanzarote and had it restored and made playable. “It was an astounding chance for Stella to walk into my exhibition and recognise her tape,” the artist said. Prof Richard Thompson, head of the marine litter research unit at Plymouth University, said: “The fact it has survived intact shows the durability of plastic and the threat it can pose to the marine environment.”

Today in Focus podcast: Who killed Olof Palme?

After a night at the cinema in 1986, the Swedish prime minister was assassinated on Stockholm’s busiest street. The identity of his killer has never been proven. Jan Stocklassa discusses whether novelist Stieg Larsson’s theory can provide any answers. And: the first same-sex couple to get married in Northern Ireland.

Today in Focus

Who killed Olof Palme?

Lunchtime read: The trouble with anti-populism

With rightwing demagogues gaining power and public debate getting nastier, many are calling for a return to a more sensible politics. But does this approach have its own fatal flaws?

Tony Blair, Pete Buttigieg, Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron and Hillary Clinton

Tony Blair, Pete Buttigieg, Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron and Hillary Clinton.


UK Athletics is in more turmoil after its chair, Chris Clark, resigned after barely seven months in charge on the day the troubled organisation announced its new chief executive. Premier League clubs, the sports minister and football fans have condemned StubHub, as data emerged that uncovers for the first time the scale of the website’s grip on thousands of tickets to football matches. Pelé has dismissed his son’s claims that he is depressed and reclusive, assuring fans he is doing well and maintaining a busy schedule.

McLaren’s Zak Brown says Formula One would be right to once more put its participants first if it had to postpone or cancel the Vietnam Grand Prix as it did in China because of the coronavirus outbreak. In darts, Fallon Sherrock narrowly failed to create more history as she drew 6-6 with Glen Durrant at the Premier League in Nottingham.


Asian shares have mostly fallen with investors turning cautious following a surge in cases of coronavirus in China. The US justice department has added new criminal charges against Huawei and several subsidiaries, accusing the Chinese company of a brazen scheme to steal trade secrets from competitors in America. The pound is worth $1.304 and €1.203 as we bring you the Briefing this morning. The FTSE is tracking about 0.2% higher at time of writing.

The papers

We have a standalone article wrapping up today’s front pages – a summary follows. The Mirror calls the PM’s reshuffle a “Bloodbath” and portrays No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings as the puppet master, saying he ordered a “brutal cabinet cull” leaving the government “filled with spineless stooges”. The Guardian says “Brutal Johnson tightens grip as Javid forced out”.

Guardian front page, Friday 14 February 2020

Guardian front page, Friday 14 February 2020.

The Telegraph is celebratory, saying the PM has “brought the Treasury to heel” and seized control in the biggest power grab of modern times. The Mail likes “bloodbath” so much that it uses it twice: once for a report on Harry and Meghan axing their UK staff, and a second time for the “brutal power grab” that resulted in “Sajid fury”.

The Times gives emphasis to the ex-chancellor’s concerns about the credibility of the Treasury and the integrity of the PM’s inner circle: “Javid fires warning shot at Johnson”. Metro riffs off Javid’s family history in public transport with the simple headline: “Thrown under the bus”. The Express says “Boris the iron man tightens his grip” after Javid lost a power struggle with No 10. The i says “Javid quits as No 10 takes control” and lays the blame for the rift with No 11 at the feet of, guess who, Dominic Cummings. The FT has “Javid walks out in protest over Johnson’s Treasury power grab”, explaining that the battle centred on how to manage Britain’s finances after Brexit. An opinion column by Robert Shrimsley points out the departure was unnecessary: “Chaotic exit shows compliance trumps competence in Downing Street”.

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