Alex Salmond offered new date for Holyrood probe evidence

The Holyrood inquiry into the botched handling of complaints against Alex Salmond is to issue a new invitation for him to give evidence.

Earlier a lawyer for Mr Salmond said he had “cleared his diary” for next Wednesday for a potential appearance.

But Mr Salmond has previously insisted that the inquiry publish certain documents before he would attend.

The committee again rejected this but also voted to refer the issue to the body that administers the parliament.

The Holyrood inquiry is examining what went wrong with the Scottish government’s investigation of two internal harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

The government conceded its process had been “unlawful” and agreed to pay the former first minister and SNP leader £500,000 in expenses after he launched a judicial review action in the courts.

He was expected to appear before the inquiry on 9 February, but this was cancelled when the committee voted, on party lines, not to publish his written submission.

A majority of MSPs argued there were legal reasons why it could not be published.

Mr Salmond, however, insisted he could not live up to an oath to “tell the whole truth” without being able to refer to this document.

Since then a senior judge, Lady Dorrian, has clarified a court order, dating back to Mr Salmond’s criminal trial in which he was acquitted of all charges, to ensure MSPs know what they can and cannot publish.

When the committee met again on Wednesday to consider the implications of Lady Dorrian’s ruling the MSPs again voted, by five votes to four, not to publish the submission – but also voted to refer the matter to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body for a final decision on publication.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The committee is keenly aware that publication is for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and has tonight agreed to refer this to the SPCB for a decision on its publication.

“The committee is pleased to hear that Mr Salmond is willing to give evidence next Wednesday.

“He can, as a minimum, give evidence on all of his published submissions and records. As such, the committee plans to write to him tomorrow to invite him to attend next Wednesday.”

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body is expected to discuss the matter on Thursday.

Facebook to block Australian users from viewing or sharing news

Facebook has announced that it will block Australian users from sharing or viewing news content amid a dispute over a proposed law.

Australia wants tech giants like Facebook and Google to pay for the content reposted from news outlets.

The social media giant said the proposed law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers”.

Australia previously called Facebook’s threats of such a ban “misconceived”.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says it drew up the new rules to “level the playing field” between the tech giants and publishers.

The Australian government says it will put the legislation to a vote in the coming weeks.

Facebook announced its new policy in a blog post on Wednesday, saying the proposed legislation had left it “facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia”.

“With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter,” it said.

Under its new rules, Facebook said Australian users would not be able read or share news content on the platform, while Australian news publishers would be restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook pages.

“Globally, posting and sharing news links from Australian publishers is also restricted,” it said.

Australian media reported that the ban appears to have already come into effect, with users reporting that they are unable to see news articles on their Facebook pages.

The American Economic Liberties Project, a Washington-based anti-monopoly group, criticised the move.

“By censoring Australian publishers to maintain its advertising revenue, Facebook has shown it is a threat to democracies worldwide,” research director Matt Stoller said in a statement.

The announcement by Facebook came hours after Google agreed to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for content from news sites across its media empire.

Australia is not a big market for Facebook. And Facebook says news isn’t a big driver of revenue for the company. So why does it care so much about this law?

This is far more about the principle. Other countries have been looking at what is happening in Australia. There’s speculation that Canada, even the EU could follow Australia’s lead – something Facebook wants to avoid.

Facebook does already pay for some news. It’s entered into commercial deals with media companies in the UK, for example.

What Facebook wants to do, however, is call the shots.

Its executives do not want governments to step in, telling them they have to pay for news – and even setting the price.

Facebook, then, has decided to show that there are consequences for governments if they want to take muscular action against Big Tech.

But that could backfire spectacularly. That Facebook can essentially switch off Australian news on its platform is already being criticised as anti-democratic – even authoritarian – in some quarters.

Jaguar Land Rover: Car maker confirms plans to axe 2,000 jobs

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has announced plans to cut about 2,000 jobs from its workforce over the next year.

The company said it had started a full review as it prepares to become a “more agile organisation”.

It comes after the car maker confirmed its Jaguar brand will be all-electric by 2025 and that it will keep all three of its UK plants open.

The losses, from its worldwide workforce, will not affect manufacturing staff, a spokesman said.

JLR has its headquarters in Coventry and plants in Castle Bromwich, Solihull, and Halewood near Merseyside.

Thousands of jobs have been lost at the company over the past two years amid a decline in sales, with the firm also previously citing uncertainty caused by Brexit.

Production stopped entirely last March before restarting at a reduced capacity in the summer.

In a statement on Wednesday, the firm said it had to make “every possible efficiency”.

“We need to reduce the cost base to achieve a lean foundation, which will allow us to transform most effectively into a more agile organisation,” a spokesman said.

“We have started to brief our salaried employees about the detail of the organisation review.

“This does not impact our hourly paid, manufacturing colleagues. We anticipate a net reduction of around 2,000 people from our global salaried workforce in the next financial year.”

James McClean: Footballer welcomes support over anti-Irish abuse

Republic of Ireland footballer James McClean has welcomed political support he has received over online abuse directed towards him and his family.

Stoke City’s McClean, 31, earlier this week shared an Instagram message that threatened to set his family home on fire, in a string of abusive messages.

NI First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster was among politicians who condemned the abuse.

“All I am asking for is people to respect my views,” Mr McClean said.

Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle, the footballer from Derry’s Creggan estate said: “I welcome the support because it’s not a green or orange thing or a point-scoring thing. It is about anti-Irish abuse and how it’s been over decades.

“Fellow players have backed me and even today Arlene Foster from the DUP, Michelle O’Neill from Sinn Féin and the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister), Micheál Martin.

“It is no longer acceptable and people need to stand up and speak out against it because it’s been going on for far too long.”

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill expressed her solidarity with the family and said footballing authorities “must take immediate action to tackle the scourge of anti-Irish racism”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken also said that “too many of the people indulging in such abuse are able to hide behind anonymous online accounts”.

On Wednesday, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin also tweeted his support for the McClean family, congratulating them for “speaking out about years of horrific abuse they’ve suffered online”.

Mr McClean also told the programme that his brother. Patrick McClean, who plays for Northern Ireland Football League club Glentoran, has also been the subject of online abuse.

The Football Association of Ireland issued a statement on Monday offering its support to McClean and his family and also condemned the abuse.

The Professional Footballers’ Association and McClean’s club Stoke City have also condemned the abuse.

Mr McClean said by speaking out he hopes that future generations will not have to experience the level of abuse he and his family have been subjected to.

“I was a young boy growing up in Creggan with dreams of becoming a footballer.

“I am in a position where I can provide for my family so it’s worth it, but it would be even more worth it when my career is over and done that the next generations are not subjected to this kind of abuse.”

He added: “I have a five-year-old son and all he wants to be is a footballer, all he knows is Stoke City and Ireland.

“If we can stop this now, God willing he becomes a professional footballer, because he’s good enough, playing his trade in the UK he won’t have to put up with this.

“Not just him, but any young Irish footballer who has aspirations of coming across the water, can play their football freely and not have to put up with this.”

Iceland director sacked after Welsh language jibes

A supermarket chain’s PR chief has been sacked after comments about Wales, its language and the UK Celtic nations.

Keith Hann was dismissed by frozen food specialists Iceland “with immediate effect” after remarks on Twitter.

Further comments on a personal blog also emerged, describing the Welsh language as “incomprehensible” and “gibberish”.

Iceland is based in north Wales, and said the comments did not reflect their values.

An official at Iceland apologised for any upset or offence caused by the comments.

The BBC has attempted to contact Mr Hann to respond.

His latest controversial post on Twitter commented on the TV star Amanda Holden being accused of breaching lockdown rules by travelling to Cornwall.

“Your periodic reminder that the inhabitants of the UK’s Celtic fringe loath ALL visitors, in and out of lockdown,” he said.

His social media account was later made private, with his profile stating: “All views my own and usually joking”.

The account has since been deleted.

Further posts in a personal blog called Bloke in the North then emerged.

In one, dating back to 2009, he reflected: “I suppose as a last resort we could always move a couple of miles west so that I could legitimately call myself Bloke in the North (of Wales), with the (of Wales) being silent.

“The price for this, if we sent the baby to a state school, would be having part of his education conducted in gibberish. But I dare say that Welsh would prove no more incomprehensible and useless to him than trigonometry and algebra did to me in my day.”

In another, he referred to Welsh signage in supermarkets as “incomprehensible” and described it as “a dead language that sounds uncannily like someone with bad catarrh clearing his throat”.

Announcing Mr Hann’s departure, Iceland said in a statement: “Iceland has taken action in light of recent comments made by its director of corporate affairs, resulting in the dismissal of Mr Hann with immediate effect.

The firm, whose headquarters are on Deeside in Flintshire, added: “We would like to reiterate that these comments in no way reflect the values or philosophy of our business.

“We are a proud Welsh company, with a long history of investment in communities across Wales, and apologise for any upset or offence caused.”

Welsh language commissioner Aled Roberts said Mr Hann’s comments showed a lack of respect, adding “these attitudes belonged to the past, but unfortunately there are individuals who still harbour these views”.

US charges three North Koreans over $1.3bn theft

Three North Koreans have been charged by US authorities over a scheme to steal and extort more than $1.3bn (£940m) from banks and businesses around the world.

They are also accused of deploying malicious cryptocurrency programs.

A Canadian-American citizen was also charged with money laundering.

The men are also accused of being part of the Wannacry cyber-attack of 2017, which crippled UK health service computer systems on a national scale.

Announcing the charges, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, John Demers, said North Korea “has become a criminal syndicate with a flag”.

One of the defendants, Park Jin Hyok, was previously charged two years ago for his role in the 2014 hacking of Sony Entertainment Pictures.

Mr Park, Jon Chang Hyok and Kim Il are accused of criminal conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.

The Department of Justice says the defendants work for the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s military intelligence agency.

“North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,” Mr Demers said.

All three men are believed to be in North Korea, which does not extradite its citizens to face US charges.

The Canadian-American man, 37-year-old Ghaleb Alaumary, from Mississauga, Ontario, is accused of being the group’s money launderer in a separate case announced on Wednesday. Officials say he has agreed to plead guilty to the charge

Sony Entertainment Picture’s 2014 film, The Interview, is widely believed to have been the initial motive for the attack on the film company.

The satirical film, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, ridicules North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and centres around a fictitious assassination plot against him.

The men are also believed to have had a hand in the WannaCry 2.0 ransomware attack in 2017.

The attack temporarily crippled UK National Health Service (NHS) computer systems and affected more than 150 countries around the world.

About 40 NHS organisations and some medical practices were hit, with operations and appointments cancelled.

There are broadly three reasons why governments choose cyber-attacks to further their interests: to spy on each-other; to steal intellectual property; or to meddle in politics.

This indictment adds further evidence to the theory that North Korea bucks the trend. The politically isolated country is actually far more interested in making money.

As the assistant attorney general put it, North Korean hackers are “the world’s leading bank robbers”.

Of all the major cyber powers, North Korea has time and time again used its considerable skills to prop up a struggling economy.

It’s working rather well, too – with well over $1bn in the bank from these hacks alone.

While other nations cause chaos and political noise with their hackers, North Korea seems content to quietly continue lining its coffers.

The three men hit by the indictment also conducted campaigns targeting US defence and energy contractors. As part of this, Department of State and Pentagon officials were tricked into sharing their credentials so hackers could access their computers.

“The scope of the criminal conduct by the North Korean hackers was extensive and long-running and the range of crimes they have committed is staggering,” Acting US Attorney Tracy Wilkison said.

Lord Frost: Brexit negotiator joins cabinet to deal with EU

The UK’s Brexit trade negotiator Lord David Frost is to become a minister at the Cabinet Office, Downing Street has announced.

He had been due to become the UK’s new national security adviser earlier this month, but was replaced days before he was due to start.

No 10 says he will become a full member of the cabinet from next month.

He will also represent the UK on a committee overseeing the UK-EU trade deal.

The government said he would lead on the UK’s post-Brexit relations with the EU, including over trade and economic opportunities.

He will also replace Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove as UK chair of a separate committee in charge of implementing the Brexit divorce agreement.

But Mr Gove will retain his seat at the cabinet table, continuing to hold the title Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Lord Frost said Mr Gove, who will be his new boss at the Cabinet Office, did an “extraordinary job for this country” in talks with the EU over the past year.

As new UK chair of UK-EU “joint committee” on the Brexit withdrawal treaty, Lord Frost will head talks with the EU over border tensions in Northern Ireland.

Under the treaty, which came into effect in February 2020, Northern Ireland remained part of the EU’s single market for goods.

It has led to difficulties for businesses at the border in Northern Ireland due to increased paperwork and customs rules.

Antony Gormley beach sculptures compared to sex toys or giant dog poo

A set of Sir Antony Gormley sculptures installed on a beach have been compared to “sex toys” or “giant dog poo”.

The works created by the Angel of the North sculptor were placed on the beach at Aldeburgh in August but without planning approval.

Their owner, who describes them as “fine works”, is seeking retrospective permission from East Suffolk Council.

Some people on Facebook called them “much-loved” but others likened them to “something out of Ann Summers”.

The four cast iron sculptures, known as Quartet, were created by Sir Antony in 2001.

They were sold to international art collector Caroline Wiseman, who has a house and gallery in Aldeburgh.

She said she bought them as they were “fine works” by Sir Antony, whom she described as “arguably Britain’s most esteemed international sculptor”.

Mrs Wiseman displayed the works horizontally on the beach as part of the 10th anniversary of Aldeburgh Beach Lookout and they have remained there since.

East Suffolk Council’s planning statement said the display was “not a cynical attempt to circumvent the planning process but a simple misunderstanding”.

People have shared their interpretations of the works on the Aldeburgh and Surrounding Area Images Facebook page.

Some likened them to to seals, shells or grenades, while another wrote they resembled “giant rabbit droppings”.

A town resident, who wrote to the council in support of the works, said they were a “much-loved part of Aldeburgh beach and attract daily visitors throughout the year”.

Mrs Wiseman said she was confident she would obtain planning permission.

“The best thing is that people come and have a look at them, they come to the beach and they can work out in their own minds what they are.

“If a few people think they look like sex toys then that’s because they’ve got vivid imaginations,” she said.

Aldeburgh is also home to Maggi Hambling’s Scallop, a tribute to Lowestoft-born composer Benjamin Britten, that also caused controversy when it was installed.

Google to pay Murdochs News Corporation for stories

Google has agreed to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for content from news sites across its media empire.

News Corporation said it would be sharing its stories in exchange for “significant payments”.

Mr Murdoch has long called for Google and other internet platforms to pay media companies for their output.

Amid mounting pressure from lawmakers in Australia and elsewhere, Google last year said it would start to pay some publishers for stories.

“This has been a passionate cause for our company for well over a decade and I am gratified that the terms of trade are changing, not just for News Corp, but for every publisher,” said Robert Thompson, News Corporation chief executive.

The company owns The Sun, The Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Australian, among other publications.

“For many years, we were accused of tilting at tech windmills, but what was a solitary campaign, a quixotic quest, has become a movement, and both journalism and society will be enhanced,” Mr Thompson said.

Google last year said it would start licensing “high-quality content” from publishers around the world as part of a $1bn initiative. It has signed up hundreds of media outlets in Germany, Brazil and the UK, among others, to participate in its Google News Showcase programme.

The deal with News Corp comes just days before Australia is due to pass a law allowing it to appoint an arbitrator to set fees if Google or other platforms could not come to terms with publishers on its own.

Google has threatened to cut its search engine in Australia over the plans.

In his statement, Mr Thompson said “particular thanks” was due to Australian politicians who backed the proposal.

As part of their three-year-agreement, News Corp said the two firms would collaborate on a subscription platform, share advertising revenue and invest in video journalism on YouTube, which shares a parent company with Google.

News Corp has previously struck payment deals with Apple and Facebook.

Financial deals of the News Corp deal were not disclosed.

Reuters has reported Google agreed to pay $76m over three years to a group of 121 French news publishers to end a dispute over copyright laws in Europe.

Conversations With Friends cast includes Taylor Swifts boyfriend Joe Alwyn

The cast for the hotly-anticipated TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Conversations With Friends has been announced, with Joe Alwyn, Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, among the line-up.

Conversations With Friends will follow last year’s hit Normal People, which was also adapted from a Rooney novel.

And like Normal People, the follow-up is set in Dublin, made by BBC Three and Hulu, and could make stars of its cast.

The story follows the tangled relationships of four friends.

Find out about the rising stars who will play them:

The 29-year-old Londoner has appeared in films like Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots and Harriet, and played Bob Cratchit in the 2019 BBC adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

His acting career is really taking off… but you might still know him best as Taylor Swift’s other half, the assumed inspiration for her song London Boy, and the co-writer on her latest album Folklore.

In Conversations With Friends, he will play Nick, a “handsome but reserved actor” who has an intense, secret affair with Frances, played by…

This newcomer went to the same drama school as Normal People star Paul Mescal, The Lir Academy in Dublin.

And Conversations With Friends could give her a similarly stratospheric rise, because 21-year-old college student Frances is the story’s central character.

Oliver herself graduated last year and has only one professional credit to her name since then – in a socially-distanced theatre two-hander to an audience of 10 in Dublin last summer.

This 25-year-old US actress knows a thing or two about being plucked from obscurity. At the age of 19, she was spotted while sunbathing on a Florida beach by British director Andrea Arnold, who cast her in the lead role of her award-winning 2016 film American Honey opposite Shia LaBeouf.

Since then, Lane has appeared in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Hellboy and the American remake of British TV drama Utopia.

She will play Frances’ ex-girlfriend and now best friend, the “self-assured, outspoken and compelling” Bobbi.

Kirke is known for playing Jessa in her childhood friend Lena Dunham’s series Girls, and has joined the cast of the forthcoming third season of Netflix comedy Sex Education as the new headmistress.

The 35-year-old will star in Conversations With Friends as Nick’s wife Melissa, a writer who is fascinated by Frances and Bobbi.

The 12-part series will be filmed later this year by director Lenny Abrahamson, who also made Normal People.

Piers Wenger, director of BBC Drama, said: “Lenny’s deep affinity for Sally’s writing and talent for finding actors to bring her fictional creations to life played a huge part in bringing Normal People so successfully to screen.

“In casting Alison, Sasha, Joe and Jemima, that same flair and instinct is in evidence and we can’t wait to see how they will bring Frances, Bobbi, Nick and Melissa to life.”