Welcome to Monday’s Early Edition from i.
“You’ve admitted to taking cocaine on several occasions,” says Sophy Ridge to a nodding Michael Gove, who is on her show to talk about the “scourge” of nitrous oxide, which the government wants to ban. “Do you not think there is a bit of an issue where people might look at politicians who’ve taken drugs themselves and thinking ‘hang on, it’s a bit hypocritical?” The Levelling Up Secretary replies: “No, it’s because I’ve learned… that’s it a mistake, worse than a mistake, to regard drug taking as somehow acceptable.” Mr Gove insists that nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is turning public spaces into “drug-taking arenas” and is helping fuel anti-social behaviour. It’s for these reasons, along with some perceived harms, that the government wants to make possessing NOS a criminal offence for the very first time. The National Police Chiefs and Local Government Association have welcomed the move, (while one MP mistakenly hailed the ban on “laughing”). But drugs campaigners and former government scientists say the policy is disproportionate and ignores evidence, including the recommendations made by the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Why are campaigners so incensed at the move – and what does the government say? We’ll take a look after the headlines.
Today’s news, and why it matters
Just three energy companies force-fitted seven in 10 of all the prepayment meters installed using court warrants last year in what Grant Shapps has described as a “horrifying picture” of widespread forcing of the devices into homes. British Gas, Scottish Power and OVO Energy fitted 66,187 of them according to the data – 70 percent of the total.
Unions representing Border Force staff and other public sector workers have called on ministers to tone down “dangerous rhetoric” about refugees which they claim is emboldening the far right. In an open letter, the leaders of 24 unions as well as the charity Care4Calais say the language deployed by Rishi Sunak, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and other ministers on their small boats policy is “demonising” people seeking asylum in the UK.
Former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng told a fake South Korean company he could organise meetings with ex-PM Boris Johnson in a sting operation set up by campaign group Led By Donkeys. Mr Kwarteng was recorded telling the fake employee that he could attempt to arrange a meeting between them and Mr Johnson, whom he served under as business secretary.
A leading equality think-tank has called for police powers to conduct strip-searches on children be revoked after a damning report found widespread failures, including routine flouting of a rule that an adult must always be present to safeguard the child. Black children are up to six times more likely to undergo the procedure, and the youngest child to be strip-searched was eight years old.
Water companies that knowingly discharge sewage into waterways should face tougher criminal sanctions as the state of our rivers has reached a “critical” point, according to Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden. Ms Meaden said that what has happened to many of the UK’s waterways is “disgraceful”, and she blamed the water industry for “underinvesting for 100 years”.
Four questions on banning the recreational use of laughing gas:
How dangerous is it? Nitrous oxide is used in a number of medical settings, including surgery and dentistry, as an anaesthetic. It can also be used as a fuel and food additive, for example as a whipping agent in whipped cream. But the government is concerned over its recreational use, where consumers often inhale it in balloons filled from small canisters. for short-lived feelings of euphoria, relaxation and calmness. Since the pandemic, use of the drug has appeared to fall among young people, but it remains around the third most popular drug, similar or just under cocaine, and under cannabis, among 16 to 24-year-olds. In 2021 around 1.8% of pupils in England and around 3.9% of 16 to 24-year-olds admitted to using nitrous oxide (in preceding years it had been at around 8.7-8.9%). Its abuse can result in a number of problems, including a vitamin B12 deficiency which can lead to damage of the spinal cord and nervous system, and some neurological disorders. Last year, an article in the BMJ said doctors were concerned about a rise in neurological complications among young people due to recreational use of laughing gas.
What does the government want to achieve? The ban would see the recreational use of nitrous oxide prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. That law regulates substances including cocaine, heroin and cannabis. It’s not clear what classification it would fall under, but the full details of the government’s plans are expected to be released today. The move appears to be part of the government’s broader crackdown on anti-social behaviour. Michael Gove said yesterday: “We are doing this because if you walk through any urban park you will see these little silver cannisters which are the evidence of people regarding public spaces as arenas for drug taking. It is unacceptable. People should feel those spaces are being looked after in a way which means they are safe for children.” A number of politicians have raised complaints about parks and public spaces being littered with empty canisters, which are also bad for the environment. Chief Constable Richard Lewis of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “Policing would support making possession of nitrous oxide, without a legitimate reason, a criminal offence, as opposed to just supply and intent to supply. Officers would welcome the ability to seize and dispose of nitrous oxide, as well as provide warnings and carry out arrests, depending on the situation.”
What did the ACMD recommend? Michael Gove said yesterday: “Yes the advisory committee offered their advice, but ultimately, it’s ministers who are responsible, and we believe collectively it is absolutely vital that we deal with this scourge.” What he was referring to there, was this document, which sets out the recommendations of the ACMD, the independent expert body that advises government on drug-related issues in the UK, first set up under the Misuse of Drugs Act. It states: “Based on this harms assessment, nitrous oxide should not be subjected to control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971”. One reason cited for this is it “would be disproportionate for the level of harm associated with nitrous oxide and could have significant unintended consequences.” The report instead recommends restricting sales and better information, among a raft of other measures.
Why are drugs campaigners so angry? Many point out that a ban will only create more harms, by criminalising more young people and pushing the product onto the black market. “Criminalising possession of nitrous oxide will only give more young people criminal records, make using it more dangerous, fuel organised crime activity, and cause further harm to our families and communities,” Jane Slater, campaign manager at Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control said. David Badcock of the Drug Science Scientific Committee, asked: “What’s the point in the ACMD when the very best scientists and experts have looked at the evidence and advised what to do and they completely ignore it? It’s the same old tired drug policy that the government just continue to put out without looking at the evidence. It won’t stop young people using it, banning any substance just drives it into criminal hands.” LEAP, a partnership of figures from the criminal justice system pushing for drug law reform, warned: “A drug possession will hinder job and education prospects. We have many politicians on record admitting to their own drug use, but policy makers are making sure that other people will not be as lucky as they were.” Alex Feis-Bryce, CEO of Transform Drug Policy Foundation told i the policy “would disproportionately impact on young black people who are already over-exposed to policing, surveillance and stop and search. He called for drug policy to be based on “promoting health and preventing harm” rather than “preventing so-called anti-social behaviour”. And David Nutt, a former government drug advisor, suggested instead changing to policy to “10p for every whippit returned” to help remove the litter from the streets.
Around the world
Joe Biden has declared an emergency in Mississippi in the wake of a deadly tornado that tore through the state, killing at least 26 people. “How anybody survived is unknown by me,” Rodney Porter, who lives 20 miles south of Rolling Fork, told the Associated Press. He said that when the storm hit he immediately drove to assist in any way he could, and arrived to find “total devastation”, with the smell of natural gas in the air and people screaming for help in the dark.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, who had spoken out against controversial plans to overhaul the justice system. The US said it was deeply concerned about the developments.
Russia state media have claimed a drone caused an explosion in a Russian town hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border, injuring three people. Reuters reported that Tass news agency, a Russian state-owned media outlet, claimed the explosion was caused by a Ukrainian-operated Tupolev Tu-141 Strizh drone.
Elon Musk suggested Twitter is worth less than half of what he paid for it, the Tesla CEO said in a leaked memo to the social media company’s staff. “I see a clear, but difficult, path to a >$250B valuation,” he wrote, implying a tenfold increase in share value.
A convoy of six Russian naval vessels was detected around the site of the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage five days before it occurred, according to a report. A German news website, claimed that Danish and Swedish ships had been tracking a Russian naval contingent that had broken away from a larger exercise three days earlier.
Watch out for…
the new leader of the SNP, which will be announced later today.
Thoughts for the day
Nicola Sturgeon’s brand of nationalism was just as dangerous as Boris Johnson’s Brexit hysteria, argues Ian Birrell.
You can keep your pretentious galleries and high art, TV gives me all the culture I need, says Lucy Mangan.
The ultra-conservative obsession with censoring genitalia in art is creeping across the West. In a world where extreme violence appears to pass almost unchallenged, our continuing issue with a penis or vulva is mystifying and alarming, writes Stefano Hatfield.
David Attenborough’s Wild Isles revealed the sounds fungi use to communicate. Now composers are turning the electrical signals from mushrooms into music for raves, reports Adam Sherwin.
The Big Read
Why even Boris Johnson’s staunchest allies say it’s over for the ex-PM. Former leader believes Partygate grilling went well but the failure of his Brexit rebellion shows “he’s now with the wacky backy of the party”.
Harry Kane is the perfect example of why ‘natural-born goalscorers’ are one of football’s great myths. ‘Learned instinct’ is the real reason players like Kane are always in the right place at the right time, striker coach Scott Chickelday tells i’s Chief Football Writer Daniel Storey.
Something to brighten your day
Keeping your mental health in check doesn’t have to take hours. Here, therapists reveal 30 ways to reduce stress and anxiety, from micro-meditations to writing lists, and many of them only take one hour.