Iran approves seven ultraconservative candidates for election next month

Iran on Monday named the conservative head of its judiciary and six others as candidates for the June 18 presidential election, ruling out hopefuls aligned to moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who ran against Mr Rouhani in 2017, is now seen as the frontrunner for the upcoming election, in which turnout will be seen as a test of legitimacy for the Islamic republic. Mr Raisi, 60, is believed to be a favourite of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who oversees the Guardian Council, a constitutional monitor that vets presidential candidates. The panel of clerics and jurists considered 590 applications and approved “only seven”, according to Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei. In 2017, 1,630 people applied to run. Among the rejected applications was that of former president Mahmoud Ahmedinijad and former Parliament speaker Ali Larinjani. A conservative who recently rebranded himself a pragmatist and supporter of President Rouhani's nuclear deal, Mr Larinjani indicated on Twitter that he would not challenge the surprise rejection of his candidacy. Reformists had hoped to vote for pragmatist Eshaq Jahangiri, first-vice president to incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, but he was also excluded. "The disqualification of many qualified people [is] a serious threat to public participation and fair competition among political tendencies, especially reformists," he said in a statement. Some Iranians also criticised the shortlist, with one user on the popular online chat application Clubhouse saying “the president has already been selected, we’re just waiting for the election itself,” referring to Mr Raisi’s anticipated victory. Even Mr Raisi indicated he wanted authorities to consider allowing more candidates to run. “I have made contacts and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory,” he wrote on Twitter. President Rouhani is stepping down after serving his constitutional limit of two consecutive terms. The moderate leader made the 2015 agreement with world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear programme his centrepiece policy. Mr Raisi previously criticised President Rouhani for weakness while negotiating the agreement, accusing him in 2017 of failing "to get adequate guarantees" that the US would honour it. Former US president Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018, vindicating hardliners who said Washington cannot be trusted. Widespread public discontent could make for a low turnout, as ordinary Iranians suffer from an economy in ruins under sanctions and tensions with the West around ongoing negotiations to salvage the nuclear deal, which the United States quit in 2018.

Analysis: The EU finally manages to pass a foreign policy test

The diplomats and officials that stuff the corridors of power in Brussels breathed a sigh of relief on Monday night. After a string of high profile failures, the EU had finally passed a foreign policy test. The “hijacking” of the Ryanair flight by the Belarusian government, and the arrest of a journalist on a flight between two European capitals full of EU citizens, demanded a severe response. EU leaders ordered new sanctions against Minsk officials and state-owned companies. They demanded the immediate release of Roman Protasevich, an exiled opposition journalist arrested on the diverted flight, and his partner, Sofia Sapega. A French plan to block ground transit links with Belarus did not get the necessary support but the heads of state and governments closed Belarusian airspace and banned Belarus airlines from EU airports. The EU has often struggled to be as decisive and swift In February, the bloc’s chief diplomat was publicly humiliated at a Moscow press conference. He was peppered with planted questions about Cuba as opposition leader Alexei Navalny faced new charges in a Russian court. In April, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, was hung out to dry by Charles Michel, the European Council president, in what became known as ‘sofagate’. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had provided only one chair for the two presidents and Mr Michel promptly made a beeline for it. Mrs von der Leyen was relegated to a nearby sofa in an embarrassing and sexist episode that brutally exposed the inter-institutional rivalry between Council and Commission.

Dominic Cummings to be challenged as source of ‘let the bodies pile high’ claims

Dominic Cummings on Tuesday will be challenged to out himself as the source behind claims Boris Johnson said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown. Three MPs on the parliamentary committees grilling Mr Cummings, the former Number 10 adviser, predicted he would be asked whether the Prime Minister ever made the remark. Mr Johnson has denied publicly making the comment, which was allegedly uttered after the Prime Minister reluctantly agreed to a second lockdown last year. However, numerous unnamed sources were said to have overheard the remark, according to media reports from the Daily Mail, ITV News and BBC News. Mr Cummings has been accused by Number 10 sources of being behind leaks of information this year that politically damaged Mr Johnson, a claim he has publicly denied. One MP attending the hearing told The Telegraph it was “absolutely certain” Mr Cummings will be questioned on the 'bodies pile high' claim, adding: “I would fall off my chair if that question wasn't asked.” Two other MPs said similar things, with one noting the line of questioning could prove “embarrassing for Boris and for Downing Street”. Number 10 is bracing itself for Mr Cummings’s appearance before the House of Commons’s Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee at 9.30am on Tuesday. Mr Cummings was once a Boris Johnson ally, working together to defy the odds on the Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum before teaming up again to win Mr Johnson the premiership and the 2019 general election. However, the pair have fallen out spectacularly since Mr Cummings left Number 10 at the end of last year following tensions between different Downing Street factions. Mr Cummings has continued his criticisms of the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite having been a central part of the Number 10 team for most of last year.