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Rich People’s Problems: Should I book a holiday?



Every holiday or staycation I’ve planned since March has been a casualty of Covid. I know. Diddums.

My usual trips to my pad in the French Alps, cancelled. A road trip to the west cost of France, scuppered. My annual pilgrimage to the temple of luxury, Hotel Cipriani in Venice, ditched. A cheeky long weekend to Norfolk, abandoned. And a walking trip to the Lakes, postponed.

What a total ’mare. I am now left wondering whether I should even bother building up my hopes to go away or simply resign myself to the fact that travel before the vaccine rollout is a risky business.

I’m well aware that the pandemic has seriously impacted economies and people around the globe. With many deaths, prolonged illness, disruption to daily lives and businesses wrecked, my demands for a holiday may seem trivial.

Perhaps, but I have worked every day since mid-February. Although I am energised and fortunate to be busy, everyone needs to rest sometimes. My batteries need a recharge. This is the longest stretch that I’ve not been abroad since the 1970s. I’m hankering for a sunshine lunch that starts at 12pm and finishes at 2. That’s 2am, the next morning. Washed down with lashings of fizz and rosé.

The first lockdown taught us many things. Gardening is great fun. Owning dogs is essential. A house at the seaside is epic. Working from home can be a joy. English fizz is delicious. And home-made produce is fun to create and great to consume.

It’s not been as much fun the second time around. Partly because the weather has been awful, outside activities and drinks over the fence with the neighbours have been curtailed. It’s also more difficult to play catch the popping cork in the dark. But also, on day three of Lockdown 2.0, my NHS app pinged me. I’d been in contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus and had symptoms. Cue 10 days in self-isolation.

I can broadcast and write from home. While I miss my shopping experiences to buy “essentials” it’s hardly the end of the world. Using supplies, thankfully panic-purchased last time around, I’ve enjoyed different kinds of baking and made a challah (Jewish plaited bread) for the first time. I picked apples from my trees and baked apple turnovers. Not a soggy bottom in sight. And I harvested the last crop of the season from my vegetable patch — Jerusalem artichokes.

If you have ever eaten one, you will know the ferocity of the impact on one’s digestive system. Perhaps they’re the ideal food for lockdown? Under usual circumstances, you’d not trust yourself to leave the house. A trump of Jerusalem artichokes, one could say.

Despite all this horticultural and culinary activity, I’m feeling restless. We’re living with unprecedented uncertainty. There are so many things to worry about in a post-pandemic world. Taxes will rise, but which ones? Which investments should I keep? Will I have enough money to do all the works to my house that working from home has made me realise I need to do? Should I be cautious with money, even if it is burning a hole in my pocket?

That’s not the only “post” thing to be thinking about. What about post 9-to-5, five days a week in the office? Will working from home still be a “thing”? Will I still be able to do Zoom meetings in my shorts? Or socks? Will I be able to go out for lunch or dinner with friends? Will there be any pubs left after all of this? So many questions. Which brings me back to the biggest question of all: should I book a holiday?

If any mail happens to drop through your letter box, the chances are it will be choc full of travel deals. If I were allowed to go to France, I could get a return flight to Lyon for £50 at pretty much any time I chose. Even BA is £100 (scheduled, return and including tax). It’s usually double.

The problems of Covid-19 and quarantine aside (and whether the ski resorts will even open), my flat in the mountains is still not ready to welcome me back after being flooded. My builder has been unable to work, source materials or make any meaningful progress. So much for the convenience of owning one’s own place. It would be even worse if I were relying on rentals to cover a mortgage or costs. So, I have been looking further afield.

For many years I’ve been a fan of Antigua. It’s laid back and unstuffy. There are some lovely restaurants, amazing beaches and it makes for an epic holiday destination that’s within a travel corridor. In fact, it was the last trip I made before lockdown. So, I am thinking of booking again.

I could go all out and splash the cash. There’s something rather nice about travelling upper class and staying in a ritzy hotel. And yes, I could do a week and rinse the account staying at Curtain Bluff or Carlyle Bay, drop £10,000 for a trip that usually costs £15,000 to £20,000 and be done with it.

But I want to go for longer, explore the island, and throw some cash at some memorable excursions. I’m neither a footballer nor a pop star, so the sums required to live the high life for a longer break can’t be justified. With the deals that are out there, I regard it as a challenge. A two and a half week trip for weekend skiing money. Can it be done?

Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t really mind sitting in steerage for a daytime flight. You may balk at turning right, but the deals are currently so good, it might be worth the sacrifice. Last year, an economy class ticket to the Caribbean would have set you back £900 including tax. This year? The cheapest I’ve found is £344 return. And with hotels desperate to grab your business, I think I’d rather slum it in the cheap seats.

I’ll book a 16-night epic for £1,500 and spend the money I’ve saved on home renovations including some swish Bert & May tiles and fetching furniture pieces from Timothy Oulton. Those five star interior additions will last longer than a holiday. Maybe I’ll have enough left over to splash some cash and book a table for lunch at a glitzy Caribbean palace. Anyway, I’ll only want the table until two.

James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax. If you have a problem for James, contact him at

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EU pledges aid to Lithuania to combat illegal migration from Belarus




EU immigration updates

In the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the EU and Belarus, Brussels has promised extra financial aid and increased diplomatic heft to help Lithuania tackle a migrant crisis that it blames on neighbouring Belarus and its dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

Lithuania detained 287 illegal migrants on Sunday, more than it did in the entirety of 2018, 2019, and 2020 combined, the vast majority of them Iraqis who had flown to Belarus’s capital Minsk before heading north to cross into the EU state. Almost 4,000 migrants have been detained this year, compared with 81 for the whole of 2020. 

“What we are facing is an aggressive act from the Lukashenko regime designed to provoke,” Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for home affairs told reporters on Monday after talks with Lithuania’s prime minister Ingrida Simonyte. “The situation is getting worse and deteriorating . . . There is no free access to EU territory.”

The EU imposed sweeping sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime in June, after he fraudulently claimed victory in last year’s presidential election and then led a brutal campaign to violently suppress protesters and jail political opponents. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994.

The rising concern over the migrant crossings, which EU officials say is a campaign co-ordinated by Lukashenko’s administration, comes as one of the country’s athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympic Games sought refuge in Poland after team management attempted to fly her home against her will after she publicly criticised their actions.

Johansson said the EU would provide €10m-€12m of immediate emergency funding and would send a team of officials to the country to assess the requirements for longer-term financial assistance, including for extra border security and facilities to process those attempting to enter.

Simonyte said that Vilnuis would require “tens of millions of euros” by the end of the year if the number of people attempting to cross the border continued at the current pace.

Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told the Financial Times in June that Belarus was “weaponising” illegal immigration to put pressure on the Baltic country over its housing of several opposition leaders. Since then, the flow of illegal immigrants from Iraq, Syria, and several African countries has increased sharply.

Iraqi diplomats visited Vilnius at the end of last week after Lithuania’s foreign minister flew to Baghdad in mid-July. Johannson said on Monday that EU diplomats were engaged in “intensive contacts” with Iraqi officials, which she said were “more constructive than we had hoped”.

State carrier Iraqi Airways offers flights from four Iraqi airports to Minsk, according to its website. Former Estonian president Toomas Ilves suggested on Twitter that the EU could cut its aid to Iraq “immediately until they stop these flights”.

Speaking at the border with Belarus on Monday, Johansson added that the tents provided by Lithuania were unsuitable for families. Lithuania’s interior minister Agne Bilotaite said she hoped the number of illegal migrants would subside in the coming months but that Vilnius was planning to build some housing to accommodate them over the upcoming winter.

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Britain’s wrong-headed approach to refugees




UK immigration updates

Thanks to the bravery of volunteers who run towards storms at sea to rescue ships’ crews, few British institutions command as much respect as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The charity, however, has recently had to negotiate a different kind of storm, over its efforts to help refugees who get into difficulties crossing the Channel from France. Nigel Farage, the former Brexit party leader, accused it of running a taxi service for illegal trafficking gangs. Last week, the RNLI said it had received hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra donations in response.

The RNLI has become embroiled in a now familiar story when the summer months allow more small boats to make the Channel crossing. Compared with the flows to other countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, only a handful of migrants attempt the journey. That makes the UK’s inability to control the border in an effective and humane way — and shabby treatment of those who do make it across — no less of a scandal.

Britain’s strategy for stemming the flow has relied mostly on paying the French authorities to limit the number of boats crossing and return any that leave to France, while deterring would-be migrants through the unwelcoming environment that awaits them. Just as EU countries are dependent on their neighbours for keeping entrants down — whether Morocco for Spain or Belarus for Lithuania — the UK needs French co-operation to control the mutual border. Diplomatic spats, whether over Brexit or extra Covid quarantine restrictions on arrivals from France, have made that harder.

The UK approach manages to be simultaneously ineffective and cruel. Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, wrote last week to home secretary Priti Patel to complain of unacceptable conditions in the holding facility for migrants who make it to the Kent coast. A recent unannounced visit by MPs found most of those remaining in the overcrowded facility sitting on a thin mattress on the floor, with women and children in the same room as adult men.

Earlier this year, the High Court ruled that “squalid” conditions in the Napier Barracks, a temporary centre set up last year to house asylum seekers during the pandemic, were so bad as to be unlawful. While arrivals have declined since the peak seven years ago, cutbacks have led to a backlog in processing claims, leaving more in a legal limbo.

Since the start of the pandemic Britain has shut down other paths into the country, ending a resettlement scheme. This has ceded the ground to people traffickers. The “push factors” of the risk of violence and torture at home and “pull factors” of higher living standards mean many are still willing to resort to risky and illegal methods to try to reach the UK. Creating a harsh environment for those who make it has done little to dispel the widespread belief among migrants that Britain is a better destination than other European countries, and stem the flow.

That will not stop the government trying. Barristers have warned that a clause in draft border legislation could potentially make it a crime to help asylum seekers arrive in the UK, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment; at present it is illegal to do so to earn a profit. The Home Office says the clause is aimed at criminal traffickers. But along with a suggestion to set up offshore processing centres, the provision has rightly earned criticism from human rights groups. If the government is unwilling to create safe and legal routes, its only option is to prevent people from coming in the first place. That, ultimately, will mean relying on France.

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Olympic organisers investigate after Belarusian runner seeks refuge




Tokyo Olympics updates

A Belarusian runner due to compete at the Tokyo Olympics was taken to the airport against her wishes after making complaints about her coaches, according to media reports on Sunday night.

The International Olympic Committee, the Games organisers, said it had asked for clarification from the Belarus team about the status and whereabouts of Krystina Tsimanouskaya, who is due to compete in the women’s 200m sprint on Monday.

Belarus’ dictatorial leader Alexander Lukashenko and his regime are widely seen as international pariahs after he fraudulently claimed victory in last year’s presidential election and then embarked on a brutal campaign to suppress protesters and supporters of his rival, which has seen thousands beaten and jailed. 

Images and video circulated on social media sites by Belarusian opposition activists appear to show Tsimanouskaya at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, where she refused to board a plane and instead sought refuge with Japanese police.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya took part in the heats for the women’s 100 metres on Friday but narrowly missed qualifying for the semi-finals © Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters

The IOC said it “has seen the reports in the media, is looking into it and has asked the [Belarus] national Olympic committee for clarification”.

Japanese police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Belarusian Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but a statement attributed to the body suggests she had been removed from competition by coaches on the advice of doctors advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.

Late on Sunday, Tsimanouskaya shared a screenshot of that statement on Instagram with the message: “This is a lie.”

“I am asking the International Olympic Committee for help, they are putting pressure on me and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent,” Tsimanouskaya said in a video message reportedly recorded on Sunday evening from the airport and posted on social media.

A person close to Olympic officials said there remained “confusion” around the incident, adding they had been told that Tsimanouskaya had boarded a coach to the airport and had gone through the departures area to board a plane to Istanbul, where she then sought Japanese police to ask for asylum.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya tweeted that she was grateful to the IOC for its quick reaction. “She has a right to international protection and to continue participation in the Olympics. It is also crucial to investigate Belarus’ NOC violations of athletes’ rights,” she said.

Tsimanouskaya on Friday appeared to criticise her coaches and team management in an Instagram post that said she had been “ignored” and that “people in higher ranks should respect us as athletes”.

The 24-year-old had taken part in the heats for the women’s 100 metres on Friday but narrowly missed on qualifying for the semi finals of the event. She is listed on official Olympics sites as due to compete in the first round of the 200 metres at the Olympic stadium on Monday morning.

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