Iain Duncan Smith resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary two days after the Budget, throwing the government into a fine pickle. In his letter of resignation, he said that new changes to benefits to the disabled were ‘not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher-earning taxpayers’. With a dig at George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he questioned whether ‘enough has been done to ensure “we are all in this together”.’ In his reply, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, wrote: ‘Today [18 March] we agreed not to proceed with the policies in their current form.’ He was, therefore ‘puzzled and disappointed’. Mr Cameron’s letter also pointed out: ‘We are on different sides in the vital debate about the future of Britain’s relations with Europe.’ Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘Europe has nothing to do with this — that is a deliberate attempt to put something out there that discredits me.’ Stephen Crabb was appointed Work and Pensions Secretary, with Alun Cairns replacing him as Welsh Secretary. The government then reprieved Personal Independence Payments, the nub of Mr Duncan Smith’s complaint, leaving Mr Osborne with a shortfall of £4 billion.
The Metropolitan Police closed Operation Midland, an investigation since 2014 into allegations of child abuse and murder by prominent people, for which no evidence was found. A group of lawyers, academics and senior church figures challenged the condemnation as a paedophile, on ‘slender evidence, sloppily investigated’, of Bishop George Bell of Chichester, who died in 1958. Barclays told Wafic Said, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist, that he could no longer bank with them, because his interests in Syria made it hard for the bank to meet compliance requirements. A man jumped into the sea at Buncrana, Co. Donegal, and saved a baby from a car that sank with the loss of five other members of a family.
Plans by the regulator Ofqual to overhaul the examination appeal system in England were ‘unpersuasive, misdirected and likely to make the current unsatisfactory situation worse’, according to the National Association of Head Teachers and the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference. An 18-year-old black man was shot dead sitting in a car in Birmingham. Lord Briggs, the historian Asa Briggs, died, aged 94. Cliff Michelmore, the television presenter, died, aged 96. Paul Daniels, the magician, died, aged 77.
Explosions went off in Brussels, at Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek Metro station, which is close to the European Commission headquarters and European Parliament, leaving many dead or wounded. All Metro stations and the Gare Centrale were closed. Four days earlier, Salah Abdeslam, wanted in connection with the bombings and shootings that killed 130 in Paris in November, was arrested near his home in Molenbeek, Brussels. A suicide bomb that killed four people in Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul, was blamed on the Islamic State by the Turkish interior minister. An agreement between the European Union and Turkey came into effect whereby all ‘irregular migrants’ crossing from Turkey to Greece will be sent back, for each of whom a Syrian migrant from Turkey would be resettled in the EU, up to a limit of 72,000. Turkey would receive three billion euros, its people allowed to enter the Schengen area and there would be steps to ‘re-energise’ Turkey’s bid to join the EU. More than 50,000 migrants were stranded in Greece.
America was to blame for provoking problems at Iranian banks, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, said in an address marking the Iranian new year. Nineteen Jews were brought to Israel from Yemen, where about 50 remain of 51,000 who lived there in 1948. A FlyDubai flight crashed at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia, killing all 62 on board. A coach bringing students back to Barcelona from a festival in Valencia crashed, killing 13.
President Barack Obama of the United States visited Cuba, the first sitting president to do so since Calvin Coolidge 88 years ago. During a visit to Nepal, Prince Harry met survivors of the earthquakes last year that killed nearly 9,000 people. In Brazil a political crisis continued, involving President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Nike started selling trainers with laces that tightened themselves with the help of little electric motors. CSH
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