Tag Archives: British

Borehamwood blockbuster

Star Wars filming in Tunisian desertImage copyright Shutterstock
Image caption Tunisia doubled for desert planet Tatooine in the original Star Wars movie, but the bulk of the film was shot at Elstree Studios

The Last Jedi is released on Friday – 40 years after Star Wars fever first came to Britain. But the original film would never have been made without a British studio and host of talented artists and technicians.

Long before it became an all-conquering cultural phenomenon, Star Wars was facing a problem.

Director George Lucas had cast a trio of young unknown American actors in the lead roles of his space adventure and was gearing up to shoot in Britain. But his UK production executive Peter Beale knew Britain probably wouldn’t let them.

“Equity was trying to look after the British actors; there was no work around and they didn’t want foreign actors coming in and taking midsize roles or big roles that the British actors could do,” he said.

But Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill needed work permits. So Beale, like others involved in the blockbuster’s production, had to get creative.

He drew up an alternative cast list showing the film’s British actors, including Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing and David Prowse at the top, and Ford, Fisher and Hamill in apparently minor roles.

“I went to Equity and said ‘Look, the English have got the best parts in this, but the director wants three little Americans for the smaller parts‘ and I also went to the Home Office and told them the truth… and they supported it because they wanted the work and they recognised it.”

What did Equity say? “By the time they realised, I think they had forgiven me.”

Image copyright Shutterstock
Image caption When George Lucas (centre) began work on Star Wars, few in the industry believed a space movie could be a hit

As one of the world’s best-loved and most successful films, the casual observer might think of Star Wars as the archetypal Hollywood blockbuster, created in the studios of Los Angeles.

But as fans of the saga and film history know, the movie that spawned a multibillion-dollar franchise was shot mainly in Hertfordshire at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood – using the talent, expertise and ingenuity of hundreds of British workers.

A new documentary, The Galaxy Britain Built, tracked down these filmmakers to get their stories, revealing how they drew on all their ingenuity to bring George Lucas’s vision to life in the face of a tight schedule and even tighter budget.

Costume designer John Mollo won an Oscar for his work on Star Wars and kept all of his original workbooks with early sketches of characters including Chewbacca and the Jedi.

During pre-production, he would meet Lucas every morning and remained modest about his award-winning creations.

“It was a question of who won and who didn’t that particular day. We [him and Lucas] always got on pretty well,” he said.

“The costumes were pretty simple on the whole. They were very straightforward, in fact.”

The interview was Mollo’s last. He died in October, aged 86.

Image caption Oscar-winning costume designer John Mollo showed documentary-maker David Whiteley many of his original sketches

Despite its modest budget, Star Wars remained a big production. At least seven sound stages would be needed, and only two or three were available at 20th Century Fox’s Los Angeles studios.

Cost was another major factor. Executives originally estimated the film could be made in the UK for $4m, half the cost of Hollywood.

Production supervisor Robert Watts told how he was rebuffed when he asked to rent every available stage at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

Elstree, however, quoted £75,000 for the entire studio. “All the stages, all the workshops – everything,” said Watts. “Fantastic. Best deal I’ve ever made in my life.”

Image caption Elstree Studios offered the filmmakers the facilities they needed at half the price of Hollywood

Money was tight throughout the production, which caused a huge headache for set decorator Roger Christian

“I had a list of weapons, robots, sets, vehicles,” he said. “[I] just stared at it in horror, thinking ‘I can’t do this.'”

Improvisation was needed. R2-D2’s dome was made from a lampshade salvaged from a scrapheap. Another breakthrough was the design of the lightsaber, which Christian knew would be the “Excalibur” of the film.

Inspiration came as he rummaged through dusty boxes at a photography firm and found the handle of a 1940s press camera became a lightsaber

“I just took it and went ‘There it is. This is the Holy Grail'”, he said.

Image caption Thanks to Roger Christian, the handle of a 1940s press camera became a lightsaber
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The original dome for droid R2-D2 came from a lampshade salvaged from a scrapheap

Star Wars may now be established as the one of the most successful franchises in movie history, but Lucas’s ideas were initially met with scepticism. Science fiction simply wasn’t “box office”, and few believed a space movie would be a hit.

“Space and special effects were considered B movies, and this was a comic-book, expensive B movie, a lot of people thought,” said Peter Beale, the executive in charge of production who was forced into the work permit improvisation.

Art director Les Dilley went further. He said that scepticism extended to the British crew.

“No, I don’t think we really understood it,” he said.

“I remember a couple of people on the crew said ‘Well what is it? A load of rubbish. What does all this mean?'”

Image caption When Peter Beale told his boss it was impossible to fit four weeks’ work into a fortnight, he was told: “Solve it.”

Another challenge came in the form of the trade unions. The film’s American producer Gary Kurtz told how production returned to Elstree after a challenging shoot in Tunisia.

“We were warned in advance that British crews were very sticky about the time of day they worked and whether the shop stewards would allow you to work overtime at the end of the day or not. On location, they were fantastic. In the studio, it was more difficult,” he said.

But many problems could be ironed out through another British tradition: going for a pint.

“We did discuss potential problems for the next day’s shoot and sometimes solve them, there in the pub,” he added.

‘It was a time everything felt good’

Documentary-maker David Whiteley grew up with Star Wars, and has fond memories of watching the films with his dad, Clive, who died 11 years ago.

“Star Wars was mine and my dad’s thing, so there’s an element of nostalgia, it was a time everything felt good,” he said.

“I wish he was around to see I’ve made a documentary about it.”

Born on 4 May – “Star Wars Day” – three weeks before the original movie’s US release, Whiteley’s interest was rekindled by 2015’s release of The Force Awakens and the idea for The Galaxy Britain Built came soon after.

Eighteen months’ work followed to track down the veteran filmmakers. Countless emails, letters and phone calls were needed.

Image caption The Force was strong in Whiteley from a young age

Highlights included handling Roger Christian’s prototype lightsaber – “That was pretty amazing” – and leafing through John Mollo’s sketchbooks: “Apparently I said ‘I’m trying to remain professional but on the inside I’m like a child again.'”

Whiteley said it had been an honour to meet his filmmaking heroes and hear their stories.

“You don’t really hear from these guys. They haven’t done many interviews,” he said.

“They are very proud but also very humble, and that comes across in the film. They were just doing their job but at the time they realised they were working on something very special and it was a very exciting time.

“They all say it was a privilege to do it and that Star Wars made their careers.”

Away from the pub, a much bigger logistical problem appeared on the horizon when shooting overran and the film’s financiers ordered it to cease in two weeks – with four weeks’ work still to do.

Beale said the problem was solved by splitting the production into three units with Watts and Kurtz each directing in addition to Lucas

And despite the headaches and doubts about the material, one moment stood out that made him realise the movie could be a hit.

“I got to the set late one day and noticed there were some children on the set and I thought ‘What’s happening here?'”

The children were fascinated by the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, but slightly scared of Chewbacca. More youngsters visited and had the same reaction. “I started to think ‘Well, if the children are relating at this level, maybe we have something.'”

Image copyright Shutterstock
Image caption Producer Gary Kurtz said unions were happy to work extended hours during the Tunisia shoot, but less so when filming returned to Elstree
Image caption Star Wars opened in the UK on 27 December 1977, seven months after its US premiere
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fans queued once again outside the premiere of 2015’s The Force Awakens

That was confirmed at the film’s premiere on 25 May 1977.

“It was absolutely thrilling. To have seen all that come together, and come together so well… it was fantastic,” said Beale.

Christian said: “I felt the entire cinema almost left their seats… everyone just exploded, and you knew then this was going to be a massive hit and everyone came out buzzing.”

Makers of subsequent Star Wars movies, including Gareth Edwards, director of 2016’s Rogue One, have returned to film at Elstree. He described it as “such a great experience”.

Edwards, from Nuneaton in Warwickshire, said: “I think as a kid you picture it in this galaxy far, far away and it’s a real shock to learn one day that it was just somewhere off the M25.

“It’d be very easy to argue that you’d worked with the best in the world.”

Image caption Gareth Edwards was inspired to enter the film world after being captivated by the Star Wars movies

Colin Goudie, who edited Rogue One, said: “These are the movies that the whole world is going to watch. And it’s made in Britain.”

Watts, whose own production credits include two Indiana Jones movies, believes Elstree was a “lucky charm” for Star Wars, but added: “Talent… that’s the most important thing.

“Here in Britain we have the most extraordinary talent, both in the acting profession and but also, very importantly, in the production department of it.

“To this very day, I still have to pinch myself because people say to me sometimes ‘You worked on Star Wars.’ I’m extremely proud to have been involved in it.

“I look at myself now as I get older and the rest of it, and I think ‘Bloody hell Robert, how did that happen?’ It was something else.”

The Galaxy Britain Built will be shown on BBC Four on 21 December at 22:00 GMT and then on BBC iPlayer.


Forgotten war

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Media captionGeneral Allenby marches in Jerusalem in 1917

At noon on 11 December 1917, British commander General Allenby marched in to Jerusalem after overthrowing the Ottoman Empire and becoming the first Christian to control the Holy City in 730 years.

Thousands of Scottish soldiers played a key role in the push across the territory then known as Palestine towards the city, which is held holy by three major religions.

Having secured it, Allenby approached the Jaffa Gate outside Jerusalem and dismounted from his horse.

He and his senior officers entered on foot out of respect.

It is said that many wept for joy and priests embraced but Allenby was aloof and unmoved.

Image copyright Hulton Archive
Image caption General Sir Edmund Allenby (1st Viscount Allenby) in Jerusalem in a Vauxhall staff car

TE Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, was among the officers – wearing a borrowed uniform rather than his customary Arab garb.

He is a well-known figure – but Britain’s fight against the Turks at the beginning of the final year of World War One is not a well-known story.

It’s called the “forgotten war” and doesn’t feature in our typical view of Tommies on the Western Front stuck in trenches.

Image copyright Topical Press Agency
Image caption General Edmund Allenby in conversation with an Army officer in Palestine

The Ottomans had controlled the region for more than 400 years in a brutal and repressive regime.

The military success in overthrowing them came at a price.

Overall, the British Empire troop death toll was about 28,000.

The 52nd Lowland Division – whose soldiers were mainly drawn from central and southern Scotland – was among the Scots units who played a key role in the battles that led to Jerusalem.

Of the 11,000-strong division, 920 were killed, 304 reported missing and 4,306 were wounded.

And this was a Territorial Army unit – the men in it were not career soldiers.

Image caption A British group were taken on a tour of the route fought by the 52nd Lowland Division

A century after the operation, Colonel AK Miller, the former British military attaché to Israel, has been leading a group of Scots, many with connections to the troops who fought, on a tour of the route they followed.

Colonel Miller, the former Commanding Officer of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, said it was a campaign of “fast manoeuvre”.

It was very different to the warfare of stalemate in the World War One trenches of France and Belgium.

He said: “They advanced from the Suez Canal to Tel Arsuf, north of modern-day Tel Aviv, in doing so, crossing from the coast to the Judaean hills and back.”

Image caption The troops laid miles of railway track each day as they advanced

I made my own “advance” with the tour, as we drove from Jerusalem down to near Ein HaBsor.

In desert-like conditions, we found the remains of a railway the British built to bring vital supplies north up the line and, of course, the wounded back down the line.

Colonel Miller stood on the vast, sandy embankment constructed 100 years ago.

Image caption The railway was built in desert-like conditions

He said more than a mile a day of railway track was built

“I think that would challenge most railway companies these days to do anything similar,” he said.

“The last part of this line – about 7km (4.35 miles) – was actually built in the direct lead-up to the battle and they were almost laying it as they went into action.”

Image caption Colonel Miller’s wife Carol is seeing the area where her grandfather operated

Colonel Miller’s wife Carol is seeing the area where her grandfather, Lieutenant Kenneth McLelland MC, operated.

He was in the Royal Engineers (Signals Service).

She said: “He died very sadly in 1938 as a result of wounds he endured here.

“So actually, to come out here – and I’ve done a lot of research, I’ve looked at the photographs – so I can just envisage what it would have been like for him.

“Looking at the small little truck that he used to take along the railway line with signalling equipment and thinking about the kilts, the heat – it is alive.”

Image caption Lieutenant Kenneth McLelland was in the Royal Engineers (Signals Service)

The modern-day tour party then leaves the dusty remains of the railway track and climb on board their air-conditioned bus.

We head to Black Arrow viewpoint at Melfasim – but there is a problem.

A young Israeli Defence Force private is manning a checkpoint with his equally young colleague.

A marked police car is there with flashing lights and a barrier is across the road.

Turned back

“You can’t go any further,” he said.

“Hamas snipers are operating from Gaza this afternoon.”

The tour bus and the BBC crew are turned back but we are signalled to stop again.

The guards ask: “Where is the BBC from? My colleague thinks America but I think the UK.”

The youthful pair from the defence force were probably a similar age to the young men sent from Scotland to fight and die in Palestine.

Image caption Walter Dunlop said his father-in-law had fought in Palestine

The “Jocks”, as they were known in army parlance, had a tough fight at “Sausage Ridge” after the allies’ success in the third Battle of Gaza.

A line of trees on a seemingly imperceptible incline proved to be much higher than thought as Turkish machine guns strafed the men.

On the tour, Walter Dunlop stopped there and spoke to us about his father-in-law, Corporal John Robertson.

Image caption Corporal John Robertson never said a word to his wife about his experiences

“He never said a word to his wife and his daughter about his experiences here in Palestine and, from what I understand of the gruelling march through the desert, the casualty lists – it was so bad that it traumatised many,” he said.

Nevertheless, the Empire Expeditionary Force pushed on and the Gaza to Beersheba line held by the Ottomans collapsed on the Allies’ third attempt to break through.

Another victory at Junction Station saw the Turks withdraw north and the British pursued them – but the going was tough.

Rough track

On the approach to Jerusalem, they marched 69 miles in nine days and that included four battles.

Animals were critical to the supply lines, with camels carrying water along a rough track that was an old Roman road.

More than 150,000 beasts were pressed into service. Mesh netting helped them cross the desert tracks.

The men had to march with only two days’ worth of rations for three days as they approached the final, decisive battle on the road to the Holy City.

A synagogue and a mosque sit on top of a hill, a commanding position overlooking the route north from Jerusalem.

Kept on going

This is Nebi Samuel – it’s said to be the tomb of the Samuel from the Old Testament – many have fought here, including the Crusader King, Richard the Lionheart.

Colonel Miller said: “It’s said that Nebi Samuel has been the pathway to Jerusalem on 23 occasions throughout history.

Of the World War One Scottish troops, he said: “Their boots were worn out, their clothes were in shreds – in fact, the best of them were in kilts because they were a bit hardier but they never gave up and they kept on going.”

Image caption Captain Ian Bell from Edinburgh saw his best mate killed at Nebi Samuel

It was a melancholic victory for Captain Ian Bell from Edinburgh, though.

Scrambling up the hill with Captain Bell was his friend Lieutenant John Hutchison, who came from Leith.

Lieutenant Hutchison was shot in the back and died later in the military field hospital.

Captain Bell wasn’t allowed to see his mate to say goodbye.

Image caption Captain Bell’s son Robin found Lieutenant Hutchison’s grave

Now, 100 years on, I meet Captain Bell’s son Robin in the Jerusalem War Cemetery and we find Lieutenant Hutchison’s grave.

Robin, who is now 84, approaches and salutes smartly.

His wife Pattie lays a small rose.

It’s possibly the first time in a century that any flower has been laid at this headstone as the Bells haven’t been able to trace the lieutenant’s family members.

Image caption Robin and Pattie at the grave of Lt Hutchison

After paying his respects, Robin said: “It was a very moving experience to find the grave of one of the dozens and dozens of soldiers of No.1 company that were killed in the war.

“It made my father have survivors’ guilt, I think.

“He was quite affected by it all – although he didn’t talk about it.”

Image caption Act of Commemoration at Mount Scopus

The grave at Mount Scopus overlooks Jerusalem but on a ridge near the Old City there’s another memorial.

St Andrew’s Church and Hospice was built to remember the Scottish soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.

It blends western and eastern architecture and is an oasis of calm in a tense city, with a sweet smell coming from the flowers as you go up the drive and a Saltire fluttering on the tower matching the bright blue, Jerusalem sky.

Image caption General Allenby laid the foundation stone of St Andrew’s Church in 1927

General Allenby laid the foundation stone here in 1927.

The minister is the Rev Páraic Réamonn and he turned my attention to the present day.

Image caption Inside St Andrew’s Church of Scotland Church

Speaking about Jerusalem, he said: “Allenby did see this place very definitely as a place of three faiths and hoped that they would co-exist together in peace – but that’s not how it is.

“This is a place of conflict and it is a political conflict in its essence and until we find way of creating political arrangements that accommodate and include and embrace all the people who live here – there will be no end to the conflict.”

Image caption The Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem

From the Kirk, you can see the Jaffa Gate where Allenby marched in.

The Citadel overlooks it – it’s now the Tower of David museum.

Its chief curator showed me the ruins of the different rulers of the city – from King Herod, through to the Ottoman Empire and then to the British – who changed the place from a barracks into a museum.

Image caption Dr Eilat Lieber at the Tower of David Museum

Dr Eilat Lieber explained how the impact of the 1917 occupiers is still felt.

She said: “To bring the British rules to the city was to bring the west to the east and to talk about infrastructure, education – even today, Israeli law is based on the British one, the transportation based on the British one.”

The Scottish soldiers helped the general achieve his aim of securing Jerusalem – but his ultimate hope of peaceful co-existence is a distant dream for many – unrealistic and perhaps even unwanted for others.

Image caption The Dome of the Rock and Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

For people like Carol, Walter and Robin, Jerusalem is place that continues to feature in the news – but for them and many others it’s a place that holds memories of those who served.

In an undated, fundraising pamphlet for St Andrew’s Memorial Church, probably from the late 1930s, the Reverend Dr Norman Maclean described Israel as “twice Holy ground” – the place that was the Holy Land but that also contained the burial grounds of Scots soldiers.

In a drive to raise money, an elderly man in a little country church offered the clergyman £100 after he’d mentioned the St Andrew’s appeal during a service.

Dr Maclean said: “That is too generous of you.”

The man simply replied: “No, I have a son lying among the hills of Judea”.

That brings home the sacrifice of Scots soldiers with St Andrew’s described by Dr Maclean as a “fitting memorial”.

Qatar buys 24 Eurofighter Typhoon jets in £6bn deal

Eurofighter jetImage copyright Getty Images

A £6bn deal to sell Eurofighter Typhoons to Qatar will help safeguard thousands of UK jobs.

BAE Systems employs about 5,000 people in the UK to build the fighter jets, mainly at Warton in Lancashire.

Qatar’s purchase of 24 jets includes a support and training package from BAE, with deliveries due to start in 2022.

The deal was announced in Doha by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and his Qatari counterpart, Khalid bin Mohammed al Attiyah.

Mr Williamson said it was a “massive vote of confidence, supporting thousands of British jobs and injecting billions into our economy”.

BAE chief executive Charles Woodburn said the contract, worth £5bn to the company, was the start of a long-term relationship with Qatar and its armed forces.

“This agreement is a strong endorsement of Typhoon’s leading capabilities and underlines BAE Systems’ long track record of working in successful partnership with our customers,” he said.

The Typhoon entered service with the RAF in 2007 to replace the ageing Tornado fleet.

Although the Qatar order secures the production of the Typhoon at BAE into the next decade, it will not stop the 2,000 job cuts announced in October from going ahead.

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Media captionTop gun: flying the Typhoon fighter jet?

BAE has suffered amid declining military spending among major Nato members, but remains a major customer of the US Department of Defence.

The FTSE 100 company is a key contractor on the world’s most expensive defence programme, the US-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project.

The UK’s deal with Qatar also includes an agreement with MBDA for Brimstone and Meteor missiles and Raytheon’s Paveway IV laser-guided bomb.

Qatar signed a letter of intent in September to buy the 24 jets from BAE.

It is the ninth country to buy the Typhoon, with other customers including Saudi Arabia. Talks about a second batch of sales to the kingdom are ongoing.

In June countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism.

Johnson to meet Iranian president on second day of talks

Boris JohnsonImage copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran on Saturday

Boris Johnson will meet Iran‘s President Hassan Rouhani on his second day of talks in the country.

The UK foreign secretary will continue to press for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in Tehran since April 2016.

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says she faces a possible court appearance later on new charges.

On Saturday, Mr Johnson held “frank” talks within his Iranian counterpart for two hours on a range of subjects.

During the meeting with Mohammed Javad Zarif, he urged the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds, along with other dual nationals held in Iran.

James Robbins said the confirmation of Mr Johnson’s meeting with the president had “encouraged” the British delegation, as it is not automatic for Mr Rouhani to meet with a visiting foreign minister.

But our correspondent said the president’s powers were limited as he is not Iran’s supreme leader.

Image copyright Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Image caption Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since April 2016

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested on a visit to see her parents with her baby daughter Gabriella and accused of spying – which she denies.

After the arrest, her daughter’s passport was confiscated and for the last 20 months she has been living with her maternal grandparents in Iran.

The case was further complicated when Mr Johnson erroneously told a parliamentary committee in November that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran to train journalists.

The foreign secretary later apologised in the Commons, retracting “any suggestion she was there in a professional capacity”.

Last month, the Free Nazanin Campaign said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had suffered panic attacks, insomnia, bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts and had been given a health assessment.

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Media captionNazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Husband doesn’t expect immediate release

Mr Ratcliffe said: “[Mr Johnson’s] fate and her fate have been aligned a little bit, and he is now in Iran battling for her. It’s a case of ‘watch this space'”.

He said he believed the foreign secretary’s “charm and presence” in Iran would “make a difference”, but the situation remained very unclear.

“It’s all up in the air,” said Mr Ratcliffe. “We’re holding on to the good bits – it could go any which way.”

He said he wanted his wife to be with her family in the UK for Christmas but he was not expecting her to be on the plane when Mr Johnson returns to the UK on Monday.

He added: “Fingers crossed it can be solved by Christmas, which means in the week or so afterwards there might be a happy outcome.”

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Media captionWhy one mother’s personal plight is part of a complicated history between Iran and the UK

Relations between the UK and Iran have long been difficult. Mr Johnson’s visit is only the third by a British foreign minister to Iran in the last 14 years.

The Foreign Office would not confirm the names or number of other dual nationals being held, saying their families had asked for their cases to be kept out of the public domain.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Johnson met Mr Javad Zarif on Saturday

In Saturday’s discussions, the nuclear deal from 2015 was raised following threats to scrap it from US President Donald Trump.

James Robbins said Iran credits Britain with sticking by the nuclear agreement, but it stressed “continuing disappointment” at the reluctance of banks and businesses to re-engage on the scale that French and German ones have.

Brexit: Michael Gove says UK voters can change final deal

Michael GoveImage copyright EPA
Image caption Michael Gove says ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’

Voters can use the next general election to have their say on a final Brexit deal, Michael Gove has said.

The environment secretary praised Theresa May’s “tenacity and skill” in securing a last-minute deal to end phase one negotiations on Friday.

But, writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said if British people “dislike the arrangement”, they can change it.

Reports suggest the cabinet will meet on 19 December to discuss its “end state” plans for Brexit.

Mr Gove said the primary agreement between the two sides had “set the scene for phase two” negotiations – where issues such as trade will be discussed.

But he said that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” at the end of the process, and the British people will then “be in control” to make the government change direction if they are unhappy.

“By the time of the next election, EU law and any new treaty with the EU will cease to have primacy or direct effect in UK law,” said Mr Gove.

“If the British people dislike the arrangement that we have negotiated with the EU, the agreement will allow a future government to diverge.”


Friday’s deal between Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker agreed on three key aspects.

There will be no “hard border” with the Irish Republic, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU will be protected, and the so-called “divorce bill” will amount to between £35bn and £39bn, Downing Street sources say.

Mr Junker said it was a “breakthrough” and he was confident EU leaders will approve it at a European Council summit next week.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Theresa May and Jean-Claude Junker agreed a deal early on Friday

Talks can then move onto a transition deal to cover a period of up to two years after Brexit and the “framework for the future relationship” – preliminary discussions about a future trade deal.

However, the EU says a deal can only be finalised once the UK has left the EU.

A final withdrawal treaty and transition deal will have to be ratified by the EU nations and the UK Parliament, before the UK leaves in March 2019.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose opposition on Monday led to talks breaking down, said there was still “more work to be done” on the border issue and how it votes on the final deal “will depend on its contents”.

What has been agreed?

  • Guarantee that there will be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that the “constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom” will be maintained.
  • EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa will have their rights to live, work and study protected. The agreement includes reunification rights for relatives who do not live in the UK to join them in their host country in the future
  • Financial settlement – No specific figure is in the document but Downing Street says it will be between £35bn and £39bn, including budget contributions during a two-year “transition” period after March 2019

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Boris Johnson set for talks in Iran

Nazanin Zaghari-RatcliffeImage copyright Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Image caption Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since April 2016

Boris Johnson will raise “grave concerns” over the imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe when he arrives in Iran later.

The UK foreign secretary will call for the release of the British-Iranian woman, along with other dual nationals.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a fiveyear sentence over allegations of spying, which she denies.

Mr Johnson’s first trip to Iran comes amid rising tensions in the Middle East.

As well as the dual national cases, Mr Johnson will discuss British concerns over Iranian involvement in conflicts in the region, especially in Syria and Yemen.

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said Mr Johnson’s trip to Tehran – only the third made by a UK foreign secretary since 2003 – could “hardly be more sensitive”.

He added that the foreign secretary had been careful to lower any expectations of imminent release for Mrs Zagahari-Ratcliffe, warning that such cases are very difficult.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Johnson will hold talks with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 when on holiday to introduce her daughter Gabriella to family.

The child has been living with her maternal grandparents in Iran for the last 20 months.

Mr Johnson was accused of risking an additional five years being added to her sentence when he told a parliamentary committee that she had been in Iran to train journalists.

In November, he apologised in the Commons, retracting “any suggestion she was there in a professional capacity”.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and daughter, Gabriella

Mr Johnson then met with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, to discuss her case, including calls for her to be given diplomatic protection.

There have been concerns about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s health after lumps in her breasts were discovered, but those were found to be non-cancerous.

Although not mentioning her by name, Mr Johnson said: “I will stress my grave concerns about our dual national consular cases and press for their release where there are humanitarian grounds to do so.”

The Foreign Office would not confirm the names or number of other people being held in Iran, saying their families had asked for their cases to be kept out of the public domain.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Ratcliffe met with Mr Johnson to discuss his wife’s case earlier this year

In his statement, the foreign secretary listed topics he would raise with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, including finding a political solution to the conflict in Yemen and securing “greater humanitarian access to ease the immense suffering there”.

He also said he would underline the UK’s support for the 2015 nuclear deal – struck between Iran and six world powers – but “make clear” concerns over the country’s activity.

Mr Johnson added: “Iran is a significant country in a strategically important, but volatile and unstable, region which matters to the UK’s security and prosperity.

“While our relationship with Iran has improved significantly since 2011, it is not straightforward and on many issues we will not agree.

“But I am clear that dialogue is the key to managing our differences and, where possible, making progress on issues that really matter, even under difficult conditions.”

Spark of genius

Spark makes notes on one of her novels in 1960Image copyright Evening Standard
Image caption Muriel Spark makes notes on one of her novels in 1960

Before he became the best-selling author of the Inspector Rebus novels, Ian Rankin spent three years researching a PhD on one of the Scotland‘s other great novelists, Dame Muriel Spark.

Rankin told BBC Scotland Spark was an “extraordinary” writer who was loved by aficionados but was not lauded in her homeland as much as she should be.

He was speaking as The National Library of Scotland began an exhibition looking at Spark’s life and work.

The exhibition, part of the celebrations marking 100 years since her birth, draws on the extensive archive of her writing and letters she donated to the library, as well as personal items such as handbags, clothes, her typewriter and rosary beads.

Image caption Ian Rankin researched for a PhD on Muriel Spark between 1983 and 1986

Rankin, whose own burgeoning writing career meant he never finished his University of Edinburgh doctorate, said he only met Spark once.

She died in 2006 at the age of 88 but a couple of years before that Rankin saw her at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

He said: “I watched her being interviewed and reading from Miss Jean Brodie, including the famous mention of the Creme de la Creme.

“There was a frisson that ran through the audience because it was the one bit everybody wanted her to read from.”

Image copyright Evening Standard
Image caption Muriel Spark, in about 1955, as she embarked on her career as novelist

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, probably Spark’s most famous novel, was published in 1961 and eight years later Maggie Smith won an Oscar for playing the lead role in the film adaptation.

The novel was set in Edinburgh and inspired by Spark’s time at James Gillespie’s School for Girls in the 1930s.

Although she grew up in the city, she left at the age of just 19 when she met and married Sydney Oswald Spark.

The couple moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) but their marriage ended soon after the birth of her son Robin.

Towards the end of World War Two she returned to Britain without her son and, among other things, worked for British intelligence.

She began writing prose and poetry while living in London after the war but her first novel was not published until 1957 when she almost 40.

Miss Jean Brodie was a breakthrough work that led to a varied career spanning five decades.

Image copyright Evening Standard
Image caption Muriel Spark at the time of the publication of her novel The Abbess Of Crewe in 1974

Rankin said it was a copy of this novel he got Spark to sign when he met her in 2004.

He said: “Her books are like a Tardis, they are much bigger on the inside than they are on the outside.

“A book like Miss Jean Brodie is 100 pages. It’s a tiny book and yet it contains multitudes.

“It contains comedy and tragedy and farce, it’s got extraordinary characters, complex moral dilemmas – all kinds of things.

“It is a fantastic book about Edinburgh and a fantastic book about growing up.”

Experimental novelist

Rankin said all Spark’s novels were like that, “books that could be read and re-read and you would continue to get information from them”.

According to Rankin, Spark, who was made a Dame in 1993, was an “experimental writer”.

“I don’t think she was a natural novelist,” he said.

“She always thought of herself as a poet.

“If you go to her grave it actually says ‘Poeta’ on it, it does not say novelist.”

He said she was not blinkered or inward looking, with her books being set in places such as America, Italy and Jerusalem.

“You never knew what you were going to get,” said Rankin.

“It was like a lucky bag.”

‘True vocation’

Spark lived with her close friend Penelope Jardine in Tuscany from the early 1970s until her death.

She famously refused to throw out any of her personal papers and the archive has been acquired by the National Library of Scotland.

Rankin said aficionados loved Spark and during her life she was lauded by some of the greatest literary figures around.

So why is she not better known and celebrated?

“It could be that she did not have that one character like Rebus that she wrote about for 30 years,” Rankin said.

“Maybe it was harder to keep an audience because people were not going to get the same character or the same setting again and again.

“Also Scotland has been bad in the past at recognising writers and artists who leave.

“There is the Scott monument but not the Robert Louis Stevenson monument. Scott stayed and Stevenson left. Muriel Spark left.

“Many writers have had to leave to find themselves, to get a sense of themselves and to find their true vocation as a writer.

“Of course, she did not set many of her books in Scotland. They are very Scottish novels but you have to dig below the surface of them to find her Scottishness.”

Brexit: ‘Breakthrough’ deal paves way for future trade talks

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Media captionThe Prime Minister said the deal will allow more to be invested in ‘priorities at home

Sufficient progress has been made in Brexit talks, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said, paving the way for talks on the future UKEU relationship.

Theresa May arrived in Brussels on Friday morning following overnight talks on the issue of the Irish border.

The PM said there would be no hard border and the Good Friday Agreement would be upheld.

EU citizens in the UK “will be able to go on living as before”.

The DUP said there was still “more work to be done” and how it votes on the final deal “will depend on its contents”.

Speaking at an early morning press conference in Brussels, Mr Juncker said: “Today’s result is of course a compromise.”

Negotiations had been “difficult for both the UK and the EU”, he added.

Prime Minister Theresa May said getting to this point had “required give and take from both sides”.

The leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster, said on Friday she was “pleased” to see changes which mean there is “no red line down the Irish Sea”.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the latest deal was a “very good outcome for everyone on the island of Ireland”.

What happens to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland had been among the key sticking points in Brexit negotiations.

On Monday, the DUP – whose support Prime Minister Theresa May needs to win key votes in Westminster – objected to draft plans drawn up by the UK and the EU.

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Media captionJean-Claude Juncker: “Sufficient progress” will see Brexit trade talks begin

With regard to EU citizens‘ rights, Mrs May said the agreement would guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens in the UK.

Their rights would “enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts”.

The rights of UK citizens living in the EU will also remain the same and the administration procedure for those concerned will be “cheap and simple”, Mr Juncker added.

Newspaper headlines: ‘Frantic Brexit talks’ and Meghan Markle’s dad

Image caption The Times says Theresa May is ready to work through the night to reach a compromise on the Irish border issue in her Brexit negotiations. The newspaper also reports that the value of bitcoins, a digital currency, is soaring but there are concerns that the growth will not last.
Image caption Also on the subject of Brexit, the Financial Times says Theresa May has been forced into “frantic talks” with the DUP as she races to meet the deal deadline. The newspaper also says one in 20 UK companies that have submitted gender pay gap data to the government have reported numbers that are statistically improbable.
Image caption The Daily Mirror says Meghan Markle’s dad would love to give his daughter away at next year‘s royal wedding.
Image caption The Guardian quotes a report by the government’s spending watchdog that students taking out huge loans to pay for higher education are being failed by universities in England, with only one in three saying they receive value for money.
Image caption The i says a government minister promises to act after an £800,000 package for a vice chancellor was revealed.
Image caption The Daily Mail says Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has “stood his ground” over comments that British terrorists should be killed.
Image caption The Metro reports that a 17-year-old boy who tried to kill his victim with a paving slab has been convicted of attempted murder.
Image caption The Daily Express warns that sub-zero temperatures in Britain are likely to last throughout next week.
Image caption The Daily Star reports that at least one person died when Storm Caroline battered the UK.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth: UK’s biggest warship commissioned

The biggest and most powerful warship ever built for the Royal Navy has been officially commissioned.

At a ceremony in Portsmouth, the Queen described “HMS Queen Elizabeth” as the best of British technology and innovation.

The ship is capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft.