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Boris Johnson news: PM warns Trump over threat to bomb Iranian cultural sites, as Long Bailey handed Labour leadership boost

Who will replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader?

Boris Johnson has warned Donald Trump against any attempt to target Iranian cultural sites – with the PM’s official spokesperson citing “international conventions” that prevent destruction of heritage.

It comes as Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) decided the rules for electing Jeremy Corbyn’s successor, and confirmed a new leader will be announced after a three-month long contest on 4 April.

Meanwhile Labour MP Angela Rayner, launching her own bid for the party’s deputy leadership, has said she is backing Rebecca Long Bailey for the leadership if her “friend” decides to join the contest.

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Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of events at Westminster, as Boris Johnson assembles ministers to discuss the Iran crisis and top Labour figures meet to decide the rules of the leadership contest.

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PM says ‘we will not lament’ Soleimani death

Boris Johnson broke his silence on the US killing of Iran’s top military general, calling for Tehran to end threats of “retaliation or reprisals”.

Following growing criticism of his failure to comment – as he continued his holiday on the private island of Mustique – the PM spoke to Donald Trump and EU leaders on his return to London.

In a brief statement, Johnson said the UK “will not lament” the death of Qasem Soleimani, blaming him for “the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and western personnel”.

He added: “It is clear, however, that all calls for retaliation or reprisals will simply lead to more violence in the region, and they are in no one’s interest.”

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UK soldiers at risk from reprisal attacks on US

British troops could “possibly” be killed in retaliation attacks on US soldiers, according to retired army officer Sir Simon Vincent Mayall.

The lieutenant general told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the allies were “joined at the hip” in Iraq and that casualties could be shared if Iran strikes back following the US decision to kill Qasem Soleimani.

The Ministry of Defence adviser said: “I don’t think the British are any more vulnerable than the Americans in this case – we are joined at the hip in this.

“But the Iranians are quite right. Because we’re so closely joined in this, any attack on American assets will inevitably, possibly lead to British casualties as well.”

Sir Simon said he expected British diplomats would be talking to their American counterparts on an “hourly basis” to discuss attempts to de-escalate tensions.

In a swipe at Donald Trump’s approach to the crisis, he said: “I think they will be encouraging officials to remind the President all the time that the best way to go forward is with allies and friends and to try and stop this escalatory talk over the Twittersphere.”

It comes as a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s international wing Quds Force told The Times UK soldiers could be “collateral damage” in reprisal attacks on US targets.

Funeral procession for Qasem Soleimani in Tehran (Reuters) 

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PM to discuss Iran crisis with ministers – and allies

Boris Johnson is to assemble key ministers to discuss the spiralling Iran crisis after the US’s assassination of Iran’s top military leader.

The PM is also likely to continue high-stakes diplomatic discussions with world leaders on Monday over the Donald Trump-ordered drone strike on Qasem Soleimani.

Johnson said he will be speaking to Iraq “to support peace and stability” after its parliament called for the expulsion of foreign troops, including British soldiers working against Isis.

The PM spoke to French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel after arriving back in the UK on Sunday morning from his Caribbean holiday amid criticism he was “sunning himself” while the crisis unfolded.

The three leaders released a statement late on Sunday night saying while Iran must stand condemned for the negative role it has played in the region, “there is now an urgent need for de-escalation”.

“We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility. The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped,” the joint statement said.

Boris Johnson with British troops in Estonia (EPA) 

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Husband of Iran-detainee asks for meeting with PM

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Iran-detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has confirmed he has requested a meeting with Boris Johnson following the escalation of tension between Iran and the West.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that his wife’s situation has become “desperate” and that the family was “really worried” for her.

Ratcliffe said: “Part of our campaigning has always been to call on Iran to uphold international law and to respect UN rulings in Nazanin’s case and that gets a bit harder when international law is played fast and loose with by other parties.

“We have always been a chess piece in this game and this chess game has just changed radically.

“This is not a case where you can stand on the sidelines and just wait quietly. I think there needs to be a real clear clarity of priorities and I think we are asking to meet with Boris Johnson, with us and the other families (of British Iranian prisoners), as soon as possible to give that reassurance.”

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NEC meeting to decide on Labour leadership contest rules

Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meets today to decide on the timetable for electing Jeremy Corbyn’s successor, who can have a vote and how much they should pay to do so.

Some fear the Corbyn backers who still dominate the committee will try to prevent a deluge of “moderates” from signing up to vote. Current rules would give potential new recruits two more weeks to join – but the deadline could be made much shorter.

Little is certain. A narrow window of time could benefit Sir Keir Starmer, since polling suggests he has most support from the current pro-EU membership.

One Labour figure told The Telegraph those keen to pass the flame of Corbynism are divided over whether to back Rebecca Long Bailey or Ian Lavery, the party’s chairman.

“If they go for Ian they may well need a longer leadership contest so people get to know who he is. They are all over the place.”

Long Bailey, who has yet to say whether she’s standing, has been fairly quiet since the party’s election defeat. It might be in her interests to keep quiet a little bit longer.

She is entitled to attend today’s NEC meeting, but one Labour figure said Long Bailey would be “daft” to turn up and viewed as helping “fix” the contest.

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Watson ‘worries’ about Long Bailey as continuity figure

Labour’s former deputy leader Tom Watson said he worries about shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey replacing Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, describing her as the “continuity candidate”.

Asked to name his least favourite candidate in the race, the ex-MP told Sky News: “The one that I worry about – but I don’t know what she stands for – I mean, when I look at Rebecca Long Bailey, she’s really the continuity candidate.

“She sort of stands for Corbynism in its purest sense and that’s perfectly legitimate but we have lost two elections with that play.

“But she hasn’t said anything yet; as far as I know she has not formally announced and it might be that she chimes a different note in her opening bid and that she wants to take the party in a different direction and she’s very candid about what went wrong.”

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HS2 ‘has to be delivered’, says Midlands transport chief

The controversial trail project HS2 should be built in its “entirety”, according to the director of Midland Connect, a body that lobbies for improvements in transport on behalf of Midlands councils and businesses.

Maria Machancoses told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the benefits of the high-speed rail link had been “hugely under-estimated” by critics who want to see the project scrapped.

She said Birmingham had seen a “huge transformation on the back of the announcement that HS2 is coming to the city”.

“HS2 needs to be delivered in its entirety," said the transport expert. “HS2 is not just about connecting the Midlands to London. It is about connecting the Midlands to the North and it will, actually - most importantly - deliver the released capacity we so desperately need in our local railway networks. It is a national priority, it has to be delivered.”

But Lord Tony Berkeley, HS2 critic and former deputy chairman of the review into the high-speed route, said local improvements should be prioritised above HS2.

The Labour peer has released a report saying MPs were “misled” over the £55 billion infrastructure price tag, claiming that costs are set to rise to almost double that figure.

Speaking to the BBC, Lord Berkeley said: “All the benefits we have heard about I believe could be achieved by a massive improvement to the existing lines in the travel-to-work areas around Birmingham and Stafford.

“The problem is, if you spend £107 billion on HS2, you probably need to spend another £50 billion to improve all the commuter lines into and around Birmingham so that you can get the full economic benefit.”

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Tory minister tells all involved in crisis to ‘cool it’

The minister for the Middle East Andrew Murrison has called on all the players involved in the Iran crisis to “cool it” before it “gets worse”.

He told Sky News: “I think the Americans are trying to make sure this doesn’t escalate in the sense of Iran taking measures which are disproportionate and which may cause, inevitably, this thing to go on and on and get worse.

“The problem with this is there is a risk of miscalculation and reaching a point which is very difficult to reverse.

“So I would urge all concerned to cool it and that has been the consistent refrain of the UK government trying to dial down the temperature on this and urge de-escalation."

He also dismissed suggestions that Britain’s response had been “sluggish”, saying: “We’ve been very clear in our approach to the situation in the Gulf and consistent in that.

“We have been supportive of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and have with others – particularly France and Germany - been doing everything in our power to get this process back on track.”

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Jess Phillips rows back comments on rejoining EU

Labour leadership candidate Jess Phillips has backtracked on her suggestion the party could campaign to rejoin the EU if she succeeded Jeremy Corbyn.

The Birmingham MP told The Andrew Marr Show that “if our country is safer, if it is more economically viable to be in the European Union, then I will fight for that regardless of how difficult that argument is to make.”

But writing exclusively for The Independent Phillips said: “People are asking me if I’ll lead the campaign to rejoin the EU. We haven’t even left yet!”

The hopeful also said she could not see “a campaign to rejoin winning support in the next Labour manifesto”.

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