Welcome to Thursday’s Early Edition from i.

We all know debt is bad, but when it comes to dealing with the gargantuan mountain of one hanging over the US, the terminology is apocalyptic. “It would be downright cataclysmic,” one expert had warned, on the prospect of the US failing to raise its debt ceiling and thereby default on its payments. “It would make the global financial crisis look like a tea party”, said another. The US debt ceiling – a strange term for something that perhaps sounds like it should instead refer to scraping the bottom of something – currently stands at a staggering $31.4 trillion. Raising the limit isn’t new – it’s been raised about 78 times since 1960. On the face of it, it sounds like it should be simple enough – the limit needs to be raised to avoid defaulting on payments, that if missed could melt the world’s markets, and so therefore, politicians should vote to do it. But the debt ceiling has often been used as a political tool. One US Democrat described the bill to raise it as a “second serving of Satan’s sandwiches,” but many Republicans have been pitted against it too, with one saying the legislations was “full of loopholes and gimmicks.” The bill passed its crucial vote in the House of Representatives in the early hours of Wednesday, but the battle is not entirely over. We’ll take a look at what it’s all about, after the news.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

Labour’s policy pledges so far would cost the equivalent of a 3p rise in income tax, i analysis reveals. The party will struggle to meet its spending promises without raising taxes if it gets into power after the next election, the head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned. Sir Keir Starmer has promised not to borrow for day-to-day spending, and to bring down the size of the overall public debt pile as a percentage of GDP. Labour admits that it faces “tough choices” in power but denies that it has made significant unfunded spending promises.

Ministers will not respond to a senior Russian politician’s claim that British officials are a “legitimate military target” because they believe it is a deliberate provocation, i understands. Former Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Vladimir Putin’s security council, claimed the UK’s support for Ukraine amounted to an “undeclared war” against Russia.

A 17-year-old-boy and a girl aged 12 have died following an incident off Bournemouth beach. A man in his 40s has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, Dorset Police said.

Boris Johnson has put further pressure on Rishi Sunak over the Covid Inquiry standoff after the ex-prime minister handed over all of his WhatsApp messages and notebooks to the Cabinet Office in “full and unredacted form”. And in a new twist to the extraordinary row at the heart of Government, i has learnt that the Department of Health, which is handling WhatsApp messages, emails and other records from former health ministers and civil servants from during the pandemic, is fully cooperating with the inquiry, in contrast to the Cabinet Office.

ITV has instructed a barrister to carry out an external review of the facts following Phillip Schofield’s departure from This Morning. In a letter to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and others, ITV chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall confirmed a review would be carried out after the broadcaster said it had investigated rumours of an affair between Schofield and a much younger male employee on This Morning.

NHS charities will provide the next generation of tools for life-saving operations, the surgeon who helped lead the reconstructive surgery for Malala Yousafzai has said. Stefan Edmondson told i that trusts’ charitable arms have allowed doctors to work with equipment that would be unavailable through the normal NHS procurement process. His team’s care of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was only made possible thanks to 3D printers funded by the UHB charity.

The person behind the Secret Tory Twitter account, which has built up almost 200,000 followers and had a book published last year, has finally revealed their identity. The parody account, which claimed to be piloted by an “anonymous Conservative MP”, is actually run by a man named Henry Morris, a personal trainer from Yorkshire who lives near Crymych in west Wales.

Three key questions on the US debt ceiling:

What is the debt ceiling? Also known as the debt limit, it is the maximum amount of money the US can borrow to pay its bills, from social security and Medicare benefits, to military salaries and interest payments on outstanding national debt. When the ceiling is reached, the Treasury has to bring in measures to pay government obligations and expenditures until the ceiling is raised or suspended through a congressional vote. The government hit its borrowing limit in January, and has since been using “extraordinary measures”to free up cash in the short term. Most countries don’t have debt ceilings. The only other democracy which does is Denmark. The key difference is that there, it is set at a rate to avoid ever being a “political bargaining chip”, whereas in the US, that’s exactly what it has become. You can read a full explainer on the debt ceiling here.

What would happen if it wasn’t agreed? Financial mayhem would follow. “It would be downright cataclysmic,” said Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s Analytics told i.“Stock prices would fall, commercial real estate values, house prices. Everything would fall,” he said. The ongoing standoff over the debt ceiling, which has been drawn out for months, has already caused jitters. Ratings agencies had warned they could downgrade US debt, which underpins the global financial system. Last week credit rating agency DBRS Morningstar put the US on review for a possible downgrade. Similar warnings had also been made by Fitch, Moody’s and Scope Ratings. If the US were to default on its payments it would also have global repercussions. As one expert told the BBC: “It would be a potentially catastrophic situation for the global economy really.” Mortgages would likely go up due to interest rates being hit, and borrowing in general being more expensive. Pensions and stock markets could also take a massive hit.

Why are politicians so divided over it? Both conservative and progressive politicians have been angered by the terms of the agreement, but for different reasons. Republicans wanted to use the bill to cut spending, but some in the party believed the restrictions brought in by the deal did not go far enough. Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the Bill’s budget cuts were needed to curb Washington’s “runaway spending”. The deal restricts spending for the next two years and suspends the debt ceiling into January 2025, taking the issue away from the 2024 presidential elections. But among the controversial elements of the agreement are new requirements for older Americans receiving food aid and the go-ahead to a long-disputed Appalachian natural gas line. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, opposed the bill on those factors. “I cannot, in good conscience, vote for the debt ceiling deal,” he tweeted before it. But there are those on the other side who believe a bad deal had been struck. Republican Chip Roy said: “My beef is that you cut a deal that shouldn’t have been cut.” While some Republicans used the deal to show they had forced the Democrats to agree to their terms, the vote itself had more support from Democrats than Republicans. Now the final test will be in the Senate. There is urgency to push it through and make it law before the default deadline of Monday. It remains to be seen, however, whether the debate is stalled by those against it.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy during a news conference after the House passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 with a vote tally of 314-117 (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Around the world

Two children and an adult have been killed in a night-time missile attack on Kyiv, Ukrainian officials say. The latest attacks occurred in the eastern Desnyanskyi and Dniprovskyi districts.

Heatwaves involving 50°C temperatures could hit holiday destinations in southern Spain, Turkey and Tunisia sooner than previously predicted as the impact of climate change rapidly increases temperatures, climate scientists warn. A peer-reviewed study, published in Nature, finds that some countries bordering Mediterranean sea and in the Middle East are likely to see yearly temperatures exceeding 50°C within the next 80 years as a direct result of climate change.

Australia’s most decorated living soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith, has lost a defamation case against in which he was accused of multiple murders of unarmed civilians in Afghanistan, in a landmark win for a group of newspapers. It is the first time in Australian history a court has assessed allegations of war crimes by its forces.

Nestled in a small, wooded patch of land in Ouistreham, a port town in northern France, around 30 Sudanese boys and young men are living in tents, and struggling to access safe drinking water. Conditions in the French camp are so bad, it is pushing the Sudanese men and boys to quickly leave for the UK, campaigners say.

More than 10,000 passengers will voluntarily be weighed before taking an Air New Zealand flight next month. “For safety reasons, we need to know the weight of all items on board the aircraft. For passengers, crew and carry-on bags, we use average weights that we get every five years through this survey,” the aircraft said in a statement.

 Watch out for…

 the final deadline for the Cabinet Office to hand over Boris Johnson’s unredacted messages and diaries to the Covid-19 inquiry. That’s at 4pm today. 

 Thoughts for the day

Could Steve Barclay be the next Tory leader? Stranger things have happened. If NHS waiting lists and staffing problems start to be addressed, don’t rule out the Tom Wambsgans of the Cabinet, writes Paul Waugh.

I’m paying £500 a month on my student loan when I should be saving for childcare or retirement, explains Vicky Spratt.

I’m 41 and chose not to have kids – I wish it was easier to talk about the pain of that too. If it really takes a village, then perhaps it’s time to unite all the different types of women together, suggests Liz Guterbock

As someone who has ‘actively chosen’ not to have kids, I am afraid to say I feel pain, fear, or sadness about not having children (Photo: Karla Gowlett)

Culture Break

Naoise Dolan on The Happy Couple: ‘Marriage has been an overwhelmingly violent institution’. As her second novel is published, the ‘Exciting Times’ author talks to Holly Williams about autism, heteronormativity and adapting her bestseller for the screen.

Naoise Dolan, author of ‘Exciting Times’ and ‘The Happy Couple’ (Photo: Orion)

The Big Read

Menopausal women are risking health and money searching for private treatment after being let down by NHS. The menopause market is worth £483bn – but are women wasting their money searching for treatment outside the NHS? Gwyneth Rees reports.

In the five years up to 2022, the number of HRT prescriptions doubled in the UK (Photo: Carol Yepes/Getty Images)

Sport

Ben Stokes bats away ‘negative’ criticism of Bazball and promises he can bowl in the Ashes. England can set the tone for the Ashes against Ireland – but Stokes insists there will be no cause for alarm if he does not bowl, writes Chris Stocks.

Stokes believes Bazball can deliver 500-run days this summer (Photo: Getty)

Something to brighten your day

The remains of a medieval “northern Atlantis” have been comprehensively mapped for the first time, some ten miles off the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. The discovery includes the foundations of a large church, as well as drainage channels and a harbour that appears to have been regulated by a large system of wooden tidal gates.

Illustration of an old-world style world map of the lost city of Atlantis. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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