15. Weekly Newsletter

UK Retail

The number of shoppers visiting stores at the weekend increased 9.7% in March compared to the previous year, according to the British Retail Consortium. However, this still remains 10.2% below pre-pandemic levels which has been attributed to the rise in online shopping and the “challenging economic environment”.

The change in working patterns, with the rise in hybrid working, is partially responsible for a disproportionate increase in weekend shopping. Total UK footfall increased by 6.8% during March (compared to the previous year) but showed signs of a slowdown in the recovery. The latest data from February indicated food inflation had risen to 18.2%.

Newspapers & Northern Ireland Politics

The UK’s front page news cycle over the last seven days has covered a wide range of topics with no singular domestic issue dominating the headlines. The arrest of former First Minister of Scotland’s husband (SNP chief executive) saw nationwide coverage over his party’s finances. Additionally, details about the coronation continue to be revealed with invitations now officially released. Some of the newspaper front pages over the last week were:

  • Financial Times: Global economy dodges big slowdown as growth outlook outpaces forecasts
  • The Times: Housing targets scrapped
  • The Daily Telegraph: IRA terror threat fear ahead of Biden visit
  • The Times: Trump in the dock
  • The Sun: Our New Queen (Palace drop Camilla’s Consort title on Coronation invitation)
  • The Times: Almost half of voters say Starmer still lacks vision
  • Financial Times: EY banned from German audit work for two years after Wirecard scandal

PM Sunak has thanked the “bravery, perseverance and political imagination” demonstrated by leaders who helped shape Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The peace deal brought an end to the violent conflict, known as the Troubles, and April 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of the agreement. However, the Northern Ireland parliament (Stormont) has been without a power-sharing government since February 2022. This is due to the pro-Brexit DUP (the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland) boycotting Stormont in protest to post-Brexit trade rules between the UK and EU. The UK PM admits that there is “work to be done” but that they are working to get the political institutions “up and running again as soon as possible”.

President Biden in Northern Ireland

On Tuesday (11th March) evening President Biden will arrive in Northern Ireland to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The historic event, which brought an end to 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, will be commemorated by a four day trip across the island of Ireland. At present, the President is expected to deliver a keynote speech at Ulster University’s Belfast campus and will be joined by former president Bill Clinton alongside his wife.

PM Sunak will be in attendance for the Belfast leg of the tour. President Biden had been rumoured to be arranging a visit to the countries since the start of his presidency and personally holds Irish heritage. Concerns have also been raised over the threat of the IRA launching attacks with MI5 recently raising the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland to ‘severe’- meaning an attack is highly likely.

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