Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said that attacks on Libya to protect civilians from Colonel Gaddafi were ‘necessary, legal and right’. He told the Commons that the UN resolution authorising them ‘explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means’. MPs voted by 557 to 13 in support of the military action. The moon came within 221,565 miles of the earth, its closest since 1993.
In a budget that he called fiscally neutral, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced consultation on unifying income tax and National Insurance. He removed 43 tax relief measures to simplify the system. He reduced corporation tax by 1 per cent further to the 1 per cent already announced, but raised the bank levy to compensate. He raised the income tax threshold by £630, with effect from April 2012. He called the 50p tax rate ‘temporary’. There would be 21 new enterprise zones and £100 million would be put into potholes. Water in the south-west will be subsidised. He announced a scheme to help first-time buyers of newly built houses. Charities would benefit from new rules on legacies and gift aid. He increased tax on oil production while oil prices remained high, delayed a planned 1p rise in fuel duty and cut fuel duty by 1p a litre immediately. He delayed a planned rise in air-passenger duty, but imposed a flight tax on private jets. Mr Osborne said £1 billion was being raised by a clamp-down on tax avoidance. The Office for Budget Responsibility reduced its growth forecast from 2.1 to 1.7 per cent for 2011; it predicted inflation for 2011 to remain between 4 and 5 per cent.
The annual rate of inflation rose from 4 to 4.4 per cent (by the CPI measure) or from 5.1 to 5.5 per cent (by the RPI), the highest for 20 years. Ofgem, the energy regulator, said that ‘companies have failed to play it straight with consumers’ because of the complexity of their tariffs. BT said it was putting up the cost of telephone calls by 9 per cent and increasing line rentals. Royal Mail said it would cut more than 1,700 jobs.
Abroad American, British and French aircraft attacked targets in Libya following a resolution (number 1973) in the UN Security Council authorising members ‘to take all necessary measures . . . to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force’. The resolution was passed by ten votes to none, with Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstaining. French aircraft destroyed Libyan government military vehicles outside Benghazi, saving the city from forces that had been advancing on it despite the declaration of a ceasefire by Colonel Gaddafi. On the first night 110 missiles were dispatched. On the second, a building in Colonel Gaddafi’s large complex in Tripoli was destroyed. Italy made bases available. Although the Arab League had called for a no-fly zone, Amr Moussa, its Secretary General, criticised how it had been put into effect. Vladimir Putin, the Prime the spectator | 26 March 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk
Minister of Russia, said the UN resolution ‘resembles medieval calls for crusades’.
Japan confirmed more than 8,000 killed by its earthquake and tsunami, with more than 12,000 missing. Firemen and engineers spent days trying to cool ruined reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power station with water. Tap water in Tokyo was declared unfit for babies to drink because of radioactivity. The yen reached its highest exchange rate against the US dollar since the second world war. Berlin mourned a polar bear called Knut that died in the zoo unexpectedly, aged four.
In Egypt a referendum approved constitutional changes that would enable elections to take place within six months. Trading at the Cairo stock exchange, closed since 27 January, was suspended within minutes of its reopening. Rooftop gunmen shot dead 45 anti-government demonstrators in the main square of Sana’a, Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen declared a state of emergency and sacked the cabinet. The head of his tribal federation said it was time for him to go. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia said that he was ‘so proud’ of citizens who had refused to join protests. Crowds in the southern Syrian city of Deraa protested for several days, with at least ten being shot dead. Israel killed eight in Gaza in response to missiles. US drones killed 40 in one day in north Waziristan. Dozens of people were killed in fighting in Ivory Coast and in quite separate fighting in South Sudan. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the customary displaying of crucifixes in schools in Italy did not breach the rights of non-Catholic families. CSH