Politics

Top story: Leaders gear up for action, but Mattis not sure

Good morning. I’m Martin Farrer, it’s Friday, and these are the top stories from the Guardian today.

Theresa May and Donald Trump have agreed during a late-night phone call that Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged. They will also continue “working closely together on the international response”, a Downing Street spokesperson said, adding that the pair had agreed that it was “vital” that the Assad regime was deterred from future use of chemical weapons. Trump was also expected to speak to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, about what action to take in the wake of the gas attack on Douma last weekend that left at least 45 people dead. The conversation with the US president will reinforce the prime minister’s hawkish stance on Syria, which was endorsed by the cabinet earlier in the day and cleared the way for Britain to join military action in the war-ravaged Middle East nation.

Use of force is not yet a certainty, however, as US defence secretary James Mattis is reportedly still seeking more evidence about the gas attack. There is also concern that any western action could quickly “escalate out of control” given Russia presence as one of the regime’s key allies. Our columnist, Simon Jenkins, agrees and argues today that “outside intervention will make no difference to the conflict, except to postpone its end”.

Another glass? – Scientists say that drinking one glass of wine or pint of beer over the daily recommended limit of two units of alcohol will reduce the lifespan of a 40-year-old by 30 minutes. The extensive survey published in the Lancet says the risks of a little bit of extra booze were comparable to smoking. “Above two units a day, the death rates steadily climb,” is the chilling advice from Cambridge professor David Spiegelhalter. The study included data from nearly 600,000 drinkers in 83 studies carried out in 19 countries. Have a good weekend.

Don Trumpeone – Donald Trump is like a mafia boss and “untethered to the truth”, according to a new book by former FBI director James Comey. A Higher Loyalty is published next week but a copy obtained by the Guardian shows that Comey has pulled no punches in his assessment of the president who sacked him after a couple of months in office, precipitating the appointment of special investigator Robert Mueller to look at Trump’s ties to Russia. Comey describes meeting the president-elect at Trump Tower and wondering how long it must take him to arrange his “impressively coiffed, bright blond hair” each morning. More seriously, he was shocked at how Trump discussed his media strategy in front of the intelligence officers and appeared to want to make them members of a mafia-style family. “Holy crap,” Comey writes, “they are trying to make each of us an ‘amica nostra’ – a friend of ours.”

‘A new wave of hostility’ – Caribbean governments have registered their “dismay” at Britain’s treatment of some Commonwealth-born UK residents left without access to services thanks to an immigration crackdown. They called on ministers to fix an anomaly that has left people such as Michael Braithwaite and Renford McIntyre losing their jobs and facing deportation despite having lived in the country for decades. “Seventy years after Windrush, we are again facing a new wave of hostility,” Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner for Barbados to the UK, said.

Empty NHS beds – More than 1,400 beds are being left unused in “ghost wards” mothballed by hospitals that lack the cash or staff to keep them in use, according to figures obtained under freedom of information laws. The most up to date figures from September show that 1,429 beds were empty – the equivalent of two whole hospitals – as the NHS entered the critical winter months. Figures from four years earlier showed only 502 beds were empty. Doctors leaders said it was no surprise because cuts had forced hospitals “to shut clinical areas if they at all can”.

Part of Joseph Herscher’s absurdly complex cake serving machine.
A piece of cake? – A New Zealand-born inventor, Joseph Herscher, has come up with the most absurd way of serving up a piece of cake by building a machine involving, among many things, a spilled drink, melting butter, a toy train, hammers, a baby and a crashing laptop. The machine is known as a Rube Goldberg machine after the American cartoonist and inventor who is credited with first coming up with the idea for such elaborate, yet pointless devices.

Bill Murray in Ghostbusters.
For anyone who has watched an old-ish film recently, it’s thought-provoking to read Hadley Freeman’s piece about rewatching 80s films in the age of #MeToo. She is a big fan of 80s cinema and has written a book about it, but inspired by Molly Ringwald’s reappraisal of The Breakfast Club this week, Hadley also takes another look at films once acknowledged as classics that can now feel hugely inappropriate. Take Ghostbusters, for example, which despite its renown features a deeply unpleasant lead character, Bill Murray’s Venkman, who gives electric shocks to his male students in order to sleep with one of his female students. The list goes on and includes Die Hard (“he kept the little woman in line”) and Revenge of the Nerds (“the rapiest film of the 1980s”). However, as Hadley concludes: “It is part of being a grownup, as much as suddenly seeing your parents’ fallibilities and still loving them.”

Sport
Arsenal survived a scare to win their Europa League quarter-final against CSKA in Moscow last night. The Gunners went 0-2 down on the night, threatening their 4-1 lead from the first leg, but goals from Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey saw them through. Robert Kitson looks forward to a northern showdown between Sale and Newcastle in rugby union’s premiership at Kingston Park tonight. And check up on the latest from the Commonwealth Games with our live blog.

Business
Donald Trump (him again) has said he would take the US back into the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact – but only if the US is offered a better deal than the one negotiated by the Obama administration.

The pound continues to gain in value. It’s now at $1.423 and a heady €1.154.

The papers
Several papers lead with news that the cabinet backed Theresa May’s plan to join military action against Syria. The Mail says “Missiles at the ready”, the Guardian has “Path clear for military action as cabinet backs May over Syria crisis” and the Times says “Biggest task force since Iraq on course for Syria”.

Guardian front page, Friday 13 April 2018
Cliff Richard’s legal fight with the BBC proves irresistible. The Mirror has “Sir Cliff: BBC destroyed my life” and the Sun an almost identical “Cliff: BBC runied my life”.

More off-piste are the Telegraph with a story about the undeclared financial interests of health secretary Jeremy Hunt – “Hunt admits breaking rules over luxury flats” – and the FT – “English councils face cash crunch as cuts and social care costs bite”.

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