Britain’s gross domestic product grew by 1.9 per cent last year, the most since 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics. The last quarter’s growth was 0.7 per cent, a little less than the 0.8 per cent of the previous quarter. In the fourth quarter of 2013, construction actually declined by 0.3 per cent, and economic output was still 1.3 per cent less than in the first quarter of 2008. Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, promised in a speech that Labour would restore the 50 per cent rate of tax on higher earnings. Daniel Evans, a former Sunday Mirror journalist, told the Old Bailey that he had intercepted voicemails ‘on a fairly grand scale’ at the paper between 2003 and 2005; he had also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept voicemails at the News of the World between 2004 and 2010. Google spent £400 million to buy DeepMind, a London-based company that specialises in machine-learning algorithms.
RBS said it had to set aside another £3.1 billion for claims against the bank, bringing its losses for the year to some £8 billion. Lloyds, Halifax, Bank of Scotland and TSB cash machines and debit cards failed to work for several hours. The Lloyds banking group said it would cut 1,080 jobs as part of a plan announced in 2011 to shed 15,000 employees. Barclays planned to close a quarter of its 1,600 branches in Britain. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, visited Scotland to comment on the prospects of an independent Scotland keeping the pound. The government said it would take in some hundreds of refugees from Syria. The Queen should ‘eke more money’ according to Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, which blamed the Royal Household and the Treasury for deterioration of buildings such as the mausoleum at Frogmore, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert lie.
The Environment Agency denied that its neglect had led to the inundation of 28,000 acres of Somerset, much of it flooded since the end of last year. Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, had to go down to the Somerset Levels to be shouted at by angry residents. The Diocese of Bath and Wells said it could not support the eviction by the Church Commissioners of the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the new Bishop of Bath and Wells, from the bishop’s palace in Wells and the provision for him of lodgings in a house four miles away that cost them £900,000. More than 200 towers of 20 storeys or more were reported to be planned or under construction in London.
Mykola Azarov, the prime minister of Ukraine, and his cabinet resigned, as the country’s parliament repealed a law forbidding public demonstrations, against which sometimes violent protests had continued for a fortnight. Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb army commander, refused to testify at the trial before the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, which has been going on since 2008. ‘I do not recognise this hate court,’ Mladic said, ‘It is a satanic court.’ The United States National Security Agency is spying on users of the Angry Birds app on their mobiles, according to documents leaked by the fugitive Edward Snowden. Pete Seeger, the folk singer and composer, who became a communist at 17, died, aged 94.
In Egypt at least 49 people were killed on the third anniversary of the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. The interim president of Egypt announced presidential elections for April, and parliamentary elections in July. Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorists, cut the throats of or shot 30 Christians in church at the village of Waga Chakawa in Adamawa state, north-east Nigeria. The Turkish lira fell to a record low of 2.39 to the US dollar after an IMF warning about the strength of emerging markets. Valérie Trierweiler and President François Hollande of France parted.
Peace talks between the Syrian government and some of the opposition continued after a fashion in Geneva. The government would not allow aid to reach the besieged people of Homs, but offered to allow women and children to leave and to take the names of men who wanted to leave. President Barack Obama of the United States said he would use his executive power to counteract economic inequality, such as by introducing a minimum wage for federal contracts. The life support of May Marlise Munoz, 22 weeks pregnant, who had been unconscious since 26 November, was switched off after a ruling by a district court. CSH