Crypto is back with $300bn frenzy

Hello and welcome to latest edition of the FT’s Cryptofinance newsletter. This week, we’re taking a look at crypto’s January market recovery.

With bankruptcies, job cuts and arrests packed into the first few weeks of the year, the crypto industry looked set to pick up right where it left off after a disastrous 2022. But it’s not all doom and gloom for the tumultuous world of digital assets.

In just a month and change, roughly $300bn has been tacked on to the market value of crypto assets, sending it back above $1tn. Bitcoin has surged more than 40 per cent to roughly $23,000, rebounding from the drop to $16,000 per token, which marred the flagship cryptocurrency in the wake of FTX’s bankruptcy last year.

Bitcoin’s chief rival token ether is also firmly in the green, while Solana — the beleaguered “ethereum killer” that all but died last year — has registered an eye-popping 140 per cent increase in value so far in 2023.

CryptoCompare figures also show the total assets under management for digital asset investment products increased almost 37 per cent in January to more than $26bn, the highest since May 2022 — the month when crypto’s unprecedented crisis of confidence began. Grayscale’s GBTC — an investment trust designed to track the price of bitcoin — last month notched up $38.9mn in average daily volume, a 23 per cent rise from December, according to the crypto data provider.

The recent digital asset surge hasn’t taken place in a vacuum, but amid a wider rally for other speculative assets.

So-called meme stocks GameStop and AMC Entertainment Holdings are up roughly 20 and 30 per cent so far this year, and investor and bitcoin evangelist Cathie Wood’s ARKK exchange traded fund has posted over 25 per cent gains, buoyed by HODLing Coinbase shares, which in turn have more than doubled in 2023.

Jim Bianco, president and co-founder of macro research firm Bianco Research, texted me to say we’re “back to 2021”, referring to that year’s red-hot bull run fuelled in large part by retail excitement and a fear of missing the crypto boat.

“Log back into your Reddit account and YOLO into meme stocks,” he said.

But while Crypto Twitter™ braces for a long-awaited change of fortune, it’s important to take the industry’s rally with a grain of salt. January paints a pretty picture for cryptocurrencies, but the shadow cast by FTX’s collapse still looms large. Bitcoin has yet to venture above the mid-$20,000s, a price range it stubbornly held on to before FTX’s collapse, prompting me to claim the flagship token needed a story to sell.

“Most of the biggest winners so far this year are actually still the biggest losers over the past 90 days,” Jeff Dorman, chief investment officer at investment firm Arca, told me this week. “Why do the past 90 days matter? Because FTX imploded in the first week of November, killing what looked to be a promising recovery in digital assets at the time.”

As JPMorgan’s Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou also pointed out to me via email, crypto venture capital funding has remained weak well into the new year, and an institutional impulse that was once present in bitcoin futures faded as January came to a close.

“We suspect the crypto rally in the second half of January was more driven by retail rather than institutional investors,” Panigirtzoglou told me.

And, as those of you who were around during the industry’s inaugural “crypto winter” of 2017-18 will know, bull runs fuelled by retail investors alone can turn on a dime.

What’s your take on crypto’s recent run of fortune? As always, send me your thoughts via email at [email protected]

Weekly highlights:

  • One scoop to start: I spent some time digging into US Senate lobbying records and discovered Binance used the same lobbyists to pitch Washington lawmakers as its US affiliate. Binance has gone to considerable lengths to emphasise Binance US — its American arm — operates separately from the wider group, but these findings point to linkages between the two. Read my story here.

  • The UK has pinned its colours to the mast when it comes to regulating crypto assets. Unlike the EU — which has constructed fresh rules from the ground up — Westminster wants to bring crypto into the UK’s existing financial services regulations. The government still trails Brussels on the road to reining in crypto, and London’s future as a crypto hub is far from guaranteed, but Finnish MEP Eero Heinäluoma told me British and European legislators should learn from each other and there is “certainly no need for a race to the bottom”. Catch up on my coverage here and here.

  • The latest in crypto job cut roulette: blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis parted ways with roughly 5 per cent of its staff, while crypto exchange Bittrex laid off more than 80 of its workers. You might recall Bittrex from its run-in with US law enforcement, when the exchange agreed to pay almost $30mn to settle cases for “apparent violations” of sanctions against countries including Iran, Cuba and Syria.

  • Meta Platforms has embraced crypto’s Web 3 culture but its metaverse unit — Reality Labs — is not generating much bang for its buck. In the last quarter the metaverse unit’s revenue fell to $727mn from $877mn a year ago, and losses of $4.3bn also grew from $3.3bn the year prior. My colleague Hannah Murphy has the story here.

Soundbite of the week: Munger dunks on crypto

Charlie Munger, one of America’s most famous investors, stepped up his criticism of crypto this week, calling for the US to ban the volatile asset class. 

Munger has long been one of crypto’s most established critics, but the Berkshire Hathaway heavyweight’s recent Wall Street Journal column pulled no punches

“What should the US do after a ban of cryptocurrencies is in place? Well, one more action might make sense: Thank the Chinese communist leader for his splendid example of uncommon sense.”

Data mining: 2022’s record-setting crypto hacks

Almost every crypto metric that matters was pointing straight down in 2022: token prices collapsed, the crypto market shrunk and a bunch of major players fell into bankruptcy in what was arguably the industry’s worst year to date.

One metric managed to buck the trend, but it’s not something crypto evangelists will be bragging about any time soon. Last year was the biggest ever for crypto hacking, with almost $4bn stolen from cryptocurrency businesses, according to blockchain analytics platform Chainalysis. The total number of hacks also dropped last year to 219, down from 263 in 2021, indicating hackers were generally going after bigger targets.

And finally, North Korean hackers — which I’ve covered for this newsletter and on — pocketed roughly $1.7bn of the collectively stolen goods. It seems working for the world’s most financially isolated country is a good way to sharpen someone’s crypto heist credentials.

Column chart of Last year saw the most value stolen in crypto hacking history showing Total value stolen in crypto hacks ($bn)

Cryptofinance is edited by Philip Stafford. Please send any thoughts and feedback to [email protected].

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Rugby superstar Siya Kolisi: ‘I’ve got no ego at all’

A few days before I am to meet one of the world’s sporting gods, his latest impromptu homily lights up his homeland’s social media feeds. Introducing himself as “a dad and a husband”, he touches on the power cuts and the unemployment blighting his country before closing with a call for sport to give people “something to smile about”.

I am listening dreamily on my phone in the reception of a London hotel when the very same voice calls to me across the foyer. I look up to see Siya Kolisi bounding out of the lift towards me. South Africa’s Rugby World Cup-winning captain is half an hour early for our interview.

I should not be surprised. Kolisi has lived his 31 years at full tilt. He is the township boy who became the first black captain of a team long synonymous with Afrikanerdom. He is a titan of the ultimate macho game who likes to speak of faith, family and the scourge of domestic violence. He and Rachel, his white South African wife, have breathed new life into the frayed spirit of the Rainbow Nation with their public campaigns about the country’s ills. One of seven global figures in a Netflix series on leadership part-produced by Prince Harry, he will star on his own later this month, in a documentary based on his autobiography.

Right now, though, I remind myself never to overestimate the glamour of professional sport. Kolisi’s 6ft 2in frame has just emerged from an overnight economy-class flight from Cape Town. His hotel in west London’s suburbs, while discreet and friendly, at £120 a night and just along from a car dealership, is hardly celebrity central.

It is also at least 30 degrees colder than back home. As he poses on a street corner for pictures, office workers trudge by, heads down. Then a silver-haired man with a muscular physique stops and stares.

“Oh my God,” he says. “You have to let me take a selfie. I was a flanker too . . . ” 

Siya Kolisi photographed for the FT by Ollie Adegboye

Kolisi embraces his soulmate. In rugby — a sport as close to legalised violence as you get, and which via diet and training has reached new peaks of physicality — the two flankers on each 15-strong team have an especially punishing role: they have to keep making the big tackles to bring down thundering giants. Time and again they literally put their bodies on the line. Kolisi played this selfless role to perfection in the World Cup final in November 2019, when his Springboks demolished a more fancied England team.

“Oh my God,” the selfie-taker says again, as he walks disbelievingly away. The only time I hear Kolisi mention God is when he tells me how he recites a different verse from the Bible ahead of every match.

Siyamthanda (“we love you” in isiXhosa) Kolisi was born in a township outside the industrial city of Port Elizabeth in the dying days of white minority rule. It was three years before Nelson Mandela took office. His upbringing was “a soft life, beautiful and easy”, he says, compared with the conditions he saw two years ago when he and Rachel drove around South Africa on a 15,000km tour donating food.

“What I saw broke my heart,” he says. “Some places had no water. It’s over 20 years of democracy and still a lot of people are suffering far more than I was. I was shocked at how people are living.”

His account is an implicit indictment of the record of the ruling African National Congress in tackling the legacy of apartheid. I demur, though, at the idea that he had an easy ride. His mother, Phakama, just 18 when he was born, was regularly beaten by his alcoholic father, who was even younger. She eventually fled home, leaving Kolisi to be raised by his father’s mother. In his autobiography, Rise — English for Phakama — he writes agonisingly about his mother’s ordeal and also of learning of her death when he was 15.

Kolisi could so easily have been consumed by all this. But he was guided from that fate by his grandmother and a township school rugby coach who saw his potential and steered him to a scholarship at a semi-private formerly whites-only school. It is this maelstrom of experiences, he says, that drives him both on and off the pitch.

We have returned to the warmth of the hotel for lunch. As the waiter takes our orders, I ask Kolisi about his leadership philosophy. It is rooted, he says, in his early lessons in responsibility. “I knew I had to look after my family too. I learnt about community. People around us always helped.

“And my grandmother always taught me to be happy in tough situations. I’ve been raised to see the positive in life — although not to be blind to what’s happening in our country. I just speak about my experiences because then you can’t lie.”

A pile of football players
Kolisi (front) on his way to score a try during the Rugby Championship test between South Africa and Argentina in Durban last year © Themba Hadebe/AP
Three men in a room with bags of shopping on the floor
Kolisi, with TV presenter Maps Maponyane and fellow sports star Kaizer Motaung Jr, helps to distribute food parcels at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, 2020 © Gallo Images/Getty Images

This feeds into the Instagram posts he delivers to his 700,000 followers about gender-based violence. “It killed more people in South Africa than Covid but not much is done about it,” he says. “I think it’s because it doesn’t affect men. Well, it does affect men but men don’t want to talk about it.

“I have more men than women following me on social media. They won’t like it if I post about violence. But if I post about rugby, everyone is going to like it . . . ”

His leadership is most under scrutiny on the pitch. Rugby is a lightning-fast sport. Errors change a game in a heartbeat. His first three games in charge in 2018, after a dismal few years for the team, were “horrible” — he did not play well. But his partnership with the Afrikaner coach Rassie Erasmus was key.

“Rassie knew I would be afraid at the beginning. He created a system of shared leadership. Each player had a responsibility on the field, so I didn’t have to talk about everything. 

“I’ve got no ego at all. I think for a leader it shows strength when you know what you don’t know. A lot of people get it wrong when they want to talk about things they don’t know, and they lead people in the wrong direction.”

Kolisi has of course a steely side. I ask about the moment when, in the heat of the 2019 final, he whispered in the ear of a teammate who had made a costly mistake. He smiles: “I was just telling him to relax and not to panic. And that we are all good and we move on.”

Ahead of our lunch I had asked Will Carling, the England rugby captain of the early 1990s, about captaincy. I put to Kolisi his view that to be a great captain you need a higher purpose than just winning, and that this was one of the reasons for South Africa’s success. The Springboks have won the World Cup three times since and including 1995, after emerging from sporting isolation under apartheid.

“We were in the darkest of places,” Kolisi says of the context of the 2019 final. It was a year after the disastrous presidency of Jacob Zuma. “Our coach said, ‘People want to listen to winners. Win this trophy and your influence will be more.’”

Did that purpose help, I ask, when at one stage in the final his team had to make a last-ditch defensive effort against relentless English pressure?

“People where we come from do not want people to give up. They’re not very forgiving, because we face far harder circumstances than just a rugby game.”

When I first broached Lunch with the FT three years ago, just before Covid closed the world, I had envisaged a braai (barbecue) or even a meal at Kolisi’s home — he tells me that when not on tour he has pledged to Rachel to cook at least one meal a week for their two children. But there are few breaks in the life of a professional, and now that, as of last year, South African clubs are playing in Europe’s Champions Cup, he is travelling all the more. He is in London with his club, the Sharks of Durban, for a game against the English club Harlequins, at their Twickenham ground. So, a light lunch before training it is.

A group of white teammates banter from across the reception. He teases them back. It is a picture-postcard image of a multiracial team at ease with itself. Kolisi talks of a moment in the final when Lukhanyo Am, another black superstar, sprints down the pitch and appeals to Faf de Klerk, the tiny Afrikaner playmaker, to pass him the ball. As Kolisi writes in his memoir: “It wasn’t so long ago that a black centre would have thought twice about yelling at a white scrum half.”

I was in Johannesburg in 1995, I tell him, when Mandela embraced the game, turning up for the final in the strip of a No 6 — the position played by the then captain Francois Pienaar, and now Kolisi. As immortalised in John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy — later Hollywoodised as Invictus — it was a masterstroke, helping to bind the fractured nation. But there was an element of make-believe to the story. There was only one non-white player in the team and the sport was still riven by race. 

Rugby had long had a proud tradition in the African communities in the Eastern Cape region where Kolisi grew up, dating back to the arrival of English settlers in the 19th century. Steve Biko, the legendary activist, who was beaten to death in 1977 in police custody often played. But under white rule, black rugby teams had minimal state support, and the idea of a black Springbok was inconceivable. How bad was the racism when he started playing, I ask? And how is it that the sport has changed?

“I don’t like to shed light on the first part,” he says. “But I can tell you this: Rassie was the first coach to speak about transformation. He understood what it is. He picked black players who were good enough, but also trained them for the required positions to be good. 

“It showed our country how strong diversity is when used properly, when you put people in positions and train them. You don’t just say ‘I’m going to transform someone’ and throw him in there and hope he makes it.”

The Springboks and the Proteas, the national cricket team, have quotas for non-white players. A recent run of defeats for the Proteas has reanimated an argument that sport has been sacrificed for politics. This is especially hard for non-white players, who face racist abuse on social media — but also often question themselves as to the grounds for their selection.

Kolisi steers clear of talking about quotas. But he again salutes Erasmus. “He has told us, ‘I have picked some of you not because you are the best, but because you are the right people for this team, because of the stuff you have been through. I know that when it gets difficult on the pitch you won’t hide away.’

“Sometimes if the public is saying a player is playing badly, he’ll come and talk to you and say in front of everyone, ‘You are my guy.’ He’s done that to me once in front of everyone.”

Erasmus has had two bans during the past two years for his public criticism of referees. Were his interventions difficult for the team? “It was difficult for everyone,” Kolisi says. “He had his reasons. We are all part of the rugby family and sometimes families have disagreements . . . ”

I am revelling in a warming bowl of herby tomato soup and a Caesar salad. Kolisi has forgone food ahead of his training. I appreciate all too well the importance of diet given I have a son who plays university rugby. He had urged me to ask Kolisi, I say, about the debate over player health, in light of reports of a possible link between head injuries and dementia.

Kolisi flags that some players worry the game will lose its thrill, but he supports the trend for monitoring via special mouthguards and scrum caps or video. “When they pull you out, you do get upset. But knowing what the end result could be, it’s good . . . ”

On other fronts, he is pushing for change to keep rugby relevant. He agrees with Carling, the former England captain, that the sport needs to embrace the idea of stars. 

“Look at basketball. Look at soccer. Yes, rugby is a team sport. Those stars are nothing without their teammates. But rugby has been so conservative — if you celebrate crazily you’ll be frowned upon because that’s not what we do . . . I’m not saying go crazy. But we need to loosen up.

“Rugby can’t compete with other sports financially. A player should be judged on what he delivers on the field. What he does off the field to earn more is fine . . . because at the end of the day, for the players, rugby is going to end.”

That is clearly on Kolisi’s mind. He revealed at the start of the year that after the World Cup he is moving to Paris to play for a French club, Racing 92. He is wary of talking about it, not wanting to give the impression that he already has one foot out the door. “But I am very excited, obviously,” he says. “It’s going to be something different.”

He will be paid a lot more than in South Africa. The relative anonymity there may also be a boon. His fame yields adoration in his homeland, but at a price. I recall Archbishop Desmond Tutu saying to me once how the sight of a black and a white student kissing on campus had heartened him, showing that attitudes were changing. How was it for Kolisi when he and Rachel started their relationship?

“It was horrible in the beginning,” he says. “It was very bad. On social media some people were very nasty. And my wife doesn’t hold back and will let people know how she feels too. But over time I just don’t care. I feel sorry for them because it’s just normal. But I do understand. You can’t force change.”

Kolisi, who is with the star agency Roc Nation Sports International, says he will return to South Africa after his contract expires. His post-rugby life, he says, will focus on the foundation that he and Rachel set up in 2020 to address inequality, and his clothing brand, Freedom of Movement, in which he has a stake. He hopes his time in France will open up new avenues for fundraising. He also thinks the linkage of the European and South African club competitions will benefit his country. “It will be good for players to go to South Africa and see what it’s like and not just the bad stuff they see on the news.”

Inevitably, some suggest that he has a future in politics. He does have a vision for government: to be run like the Springboks. “We play against each other in different franchises and then we come together in one team. Politicians should compete every four years in elections and then come back and work towards the same plan.”

It seems too decent for a chance of success. Then again, Kolisi seems too gentle for success on the pitch. This autumn he will be competing to be the second captain ever to win two world cups. Now, however, he has a game to prepare for on a freezing afternoon at Twickenham. He races up to his room, changes into a Sharks strip and huddles with his coach. Never overestimate the glamour of professional sport.

Alec Russell is editor of FT Weekend

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Big Tech groups disclose $10bn in charges from job culls and cost cutting

Amazon, Meta, Alphabet and Microsoft will collectively incur more than $10bn in charges related to mass redundancies, real estate and other cost-saving measures, as the Big Tech companies reveal the hefty price they incur to rein in spending.

The US companies that have been implementing the largest job cuts in the tech sector disclosed the high costs related to their restructuring efforts in earnings statements released this week.

The four groups had previously announced 50,000 job cuts to convince Wall Street they were heading into a “year of efficiency”, as Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg described it. This trend comes after more than a decade of heavy spending in a focus on aggressive top-line growth.

Despite the companies’ high upfront costs such as severance payments, investors appear encouraged by the steps taken.

Since formally announcing their cuts, the companies have together added more than $800bn to their market capitalisations. Meta, the earliest mover among the Big Tech groups, has seen its value almost double since detailing its job cuts in November.

While savings could have been made by implementing more gradual cost reductions, tech companies were being rewarded by the markets for “ripping the band aid off”, said Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.

“Big Tech has been spending money like 80s rock stars for the last four to five years,” he said. “It feels like there’s adults in the room now.”

The process to become leaner in the wake of macroeconomic pressure contrasts starkly with the pandemic-era hiring boom, with headcounts increasing rapidly at tech companies that were responding to a rise in demand in digital products and services.

Apple remains the only large tech company that has not announced any job cuts or a cost-cutting programme, despite on Thursday reporting its first decline in quarterly revenues in three and a half years.

According to, a tracker logging instances of tech redundancies, almost 250,000 employees have been let go across the sector since the start of last year.

Some of the most recent, from this past week, include software group Okta, which laid off 300 employees, data analysis company Splunk, with 325, and image-sharing social network Pinterest, which said 150 roles would go.

The deepest cuts have come from the biggest names. In November, Meta announced it would let go 11,000 of its employees, as well as dump office space and data centres.

On Wednesday, the Facebook parent detailed charges of $4.6bn related to restructuring. Severance costs ran to $975mn, according to a company filing, though that cost was offset by “decreases in payroll, bonus and other benefits expenses”. A further $1bn in charges related to reducing office footprint is expected in 2023.

Amazon chief executive Andy Jassy told employees in January the company would eliminate 18,000 roles.

Speaking to investors on Thursday, Amazon’s chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky said $640mn had been spent on severance in the fourth quarter of 2022, as well as an additional $720mn on abandoning real estate, primarily due to pulling back on opening new physical grocery stores. The company did not share further details on charges it might incur in the current quarter and beyond.

Google parent Alphabet, which is laying off 12,000 people, said it expected to incur severance costs ranging from $1.9bn to $2.3bn, with most of the impact in the current quarter. At the high end of that guidance, the cost of severance will work out at approximately $191,000 per employee. Alphabet faces a further $500mn in costs relating to office space reduction in the current quarter, it said.

Despite the cuts, Alphabet chief financial officer Ruth Porat told investors on Thursday the company would continue “hiring in priority areas, with a particular focus on top engineering and technical talent, as well as on the global footprint of our talent”.

Microsoft’s planned savings — which include 10,000 job cuts — has resulted in it incurring a $1.2bn charge in the final three months of 2022, $800mn of which was from severance pay.

Salesforce, which will not report earnings until March, is expected to be another company facing significant restructuring costs, having announced a 10 per cent reduction in its workforce last month. That move came as activist investor Elliott Management took a multibillion-dollar stake in the company, saying it intended to work “constructively with Salesforce to realise the value befitting a company of its stature”. 

Likewise, Alphabet has drawn attention from activist Sir Christopher Hohn, of TCI Fund Management, who wrote to chief executive Sundar Pichai, saying he needed to make further headcount cuts and trim “excessive employee compensation”.

TotalEnergies says exposure to Adani stands at $3.1bn as turmoil mounts

TotalEnergies, one of the largest foreign investors in Gautam Adani’s business empire, said it had conducted due diligence “consistent with best practices” before pouring $3.1bn into the Indian group now reeling from fraud allegations.

Total, France’s largest oil and gas company, first teamed up with Adani in 2018 on a liquefied natural gas venture before buying a $2bn stake in Adani Green Energy, one of the group’s Mumbai-listed companies, in 2021.

Its decision to lay out its exposure to Adani — and defend its due diligence — comes after US short seller Hindenburg unleashed a $100bn rout across Adani’s companies. Adani has vehemently denied the allegations, calling them malicious, discredited and an “attack on India”.

“TotalEnergies’ investments in Adani’s entities were undertaken in full compliance with applicable — namely Indian — laws, and with TotalEnergies’ own internal governance processes,” Total said on Friday. It added that it “welcomes the announcement by Adani to mandate one of the ‘big four’ accounting firms to carry out a general audit”.

In laying out its ties to the Indian group, Total did not include its $4bn investment in a green hydrogen venture with Adani announced last year, through which it will buy a 25 per cent stake in Adani New Industries Limited (ANIL). That deal had not yet closed by the end of 2022.

The statement from Total came as the crisis engulfing Adani’s empire deepened, with shares in the Mumbai-listed companies remaining under pressure.

Hindenburg’s claims have become a leading attack line for opposition parties in India, which allege that tycoon Gautam Adani’s rise was helped by close ties to prime minister Narendra Modi’s government, something both sides deny.

In its report, the short seller also took aim at the gas business with Total, querying why the venture had picked a virtually unknown firm with barely a dozen employees in Ahmedabad, where Adani is headquartered, as its independent auditor. Total declined to comment.

The French group’s joint venture on LNG included developing an import facility on India’s eastern coast due to kick off this year. It has also bet big on solar energy in India, with its investment in Adani Green Energy gaining so much in value before the allegations that Total chief executive Patrick Pouyanné had said the group could look to cash in by selling a slice of it.

Asked in September about leverage in Adani Green Energy, Pouyanné said he considered the balance sheet to be safe. The green energy division’s value has roughly halved since the Hindenburg report was published.

Total said its Adani-linked business only accounted for $180mn in net operating income for 2022 — a sliver of the total, after its net operating income reached $30.2bn in the first nine months of last year.

As Adani sought to restore investors’ confidence, India’s parliament adjourned on Friday for the second time after the Congress party demanded a probe into the share rout. The party has also called for nationwide protests against Adani on Monday.

S&P Dow Jones Indices on Thursday evening removed the conglomerate’s flagship Adani Enterprises from its sustainability index following what it described as a “media and stakeholder analysis triggered by allegations of stock manipulation and accounting fraud”.

Mohit Ralhan, chief executive of TIW Capital, an asset management company, said Hindenburg’s report “threatens to undermine investor confidence in India more broadly, and in the nation’s regulatory framework”.

Adani has tried to reassure investors about its financial footing. The decision to abandon a $2.4bn share sale by Adani Enterprises, its flagship group, prompted investors and analysts to question whether the company will be able to finance upcoming debt payments. Adani’s total debt has doubled to about $30bn since 2019.

Gautam Adani on Thursday said his group had “an impeccable track record of fulfilling our debt obligations”.

The group is seeking to repay some loans to creditors early in order to free up stock in group companies that it had pledged as collateral, said a person familiar with the matter.

Fitch Ratings on Friday said Hindenburg’s report would have “no immediate impact” on Adani’s credit profiles, given the cash flows generated by its portfolio of infrastructure assets such as ports, airports and power plants.

Bonds for Adani Group companies were mixed on Friday. An Adani Ports bond maturing in 2024 rose 14 cents on the dollar to $0.83, while another 2024 bond from Adani Green Energy fell 3 cents to $0.63.

India’s National Stock Exchange on Friday increased surveillance of trading in group companies Adani Enterprises, Adani Ports and Ambuja Cements. The exchange toughened margin requirements for trades, a move to curb short selling by making trading more expensive.

Germany grapples with the limits of pacifism

“After all, war is war,” muses Paul Bäumer, the 20-year-old protagonist of the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. He has just stabbed a French soldier who tumbled on top of him in the muddy battlefields of the first world war.

Bäumer had volunteered to fight for Kaiser and fatherland, but nothing could have prepared him for the realities of war. Watching the young Frenchman convulse and gurgle as he slowly succumbs to his wounds, the intimacy of the killing temporarily shatters the illusion of abstract conflict. Full of desperate regret, Bäumer tells the dead soldier: “I see you are a man like me.” But, his comrades ask, what could he have done? Killing the enemy is what they had come for. Bäumer agrees: “After all, war is war.” 

The German author Erich Maria Remarque wrote these lines as a first world war veteran. Published in 1929, his novel was a product of its time, written for a generation of Germans who felt they had been sent to hell and back for nothing.

Yet, nearly a century later, All Quiet on the Western Front is still central to Germany’s literary canon. It is widely read in German schools, has been translated into 50 languages and sold about 20mn copies globally. While two American films were released in 1930 and 1979 respectively, in its country of origin the novel is so revered that no German director dared touch it. Until now.

Director Edward Berger’s 2022 Netflix adaptation could become the most decorated German film of all time, nominated for nine Oscars and 14 Bafta awards. As antiwar in outlook as the book, it comes at a time when German tanks are being deployed on European soil for the first time since the second world war, in anything other than a peacekeeping role.

There were 93 years between Remarque’s novel and Berger’s adaptation. Ostensibly, they were created in very different worlds. Remarque’s was full of the raw trauma caused by total war and defeat. Berger’s is one of relative peace and prosperity. Yet the concept of war as abstract suffering has endured in Germany. In the collective memory, Bäumer’s words ring as true as ever: war is war, no matter what the context, its purpose or its participants. Higher forces pit humans against humans and care little for the impact on them.

While the futility of war is by no means an exclusively German concept, few other nations give it centrality in the commemoration of armed conflict. Remembrance Day in Britain emphasises those who sacrificed their lives, and many people up and down the country use the anniversary of the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in the first world war to solemnly swear, “We will remember them.”

In the US, Veterans Day, too, harks back to the first world war. President Woodrow Wilson set the tone at the first one in 1919, when he said it would always “be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory”. In Russia, where the second world war takes centre stage in the collective memory of conflict, Victory Day is marked on May 9 with references to sacrifice at its core. None of these nations consider the wars they fought futile nor the individuals who took part in them victims.

While other nations talk of duty, heroism and sacrifice, Germany’s history has made such positive commemoration of war difficult. At the heart of Berlin is no Arc de Triomphe, no Cenotaph, no Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but the 19,000 sq m Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. On May 8 2020, the 75th anniversary of VE Day (known as Liberation Day in Germany), the Brandenburg Gate, icon of the country’s capital, was lit up with a “thank you” message in Russian, English, French and German. To this day, Germany is intensely conscious of the suffering the two world wars caused millions of people in Europe and beyond. Where the victorious powers see purpose in suffering, most Germans see only senseless slaughter and guilt.

Berger chose to direct a German film adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front to capture this ongoing national trauma. American and British war films, he says, “never show my perspective, the perspective I have as a German. Not that of America, that saved Europe from fascism, or England, which was attacked and drawn into a war against their will . . . For us, it’s the exact opposite. In our national psyche, there is nothing but guilt, horror, terror and destruction.”

Despite few Germans today having any memory of all-out conflict, Bäumer’s words still resonate with them as he describes war as “despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”

Germany’s collective conviction that armed conflict is inherently futile has been severely tested by the war in Ukraine. Days before Russia launched its invasion on February 24 last year, Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, was still defending her country’s reluctance to help Ukraine defend itself: “Our responsibility after the second world war was that never again from Germany there will be war, and never again there will be genocide.” There it was, modern Germany’s oft-repeated raison d’être: never again.

But since Baerbock spoke those words, Germany has not only announced a €100bn boost to its own military but has sent significant aid and weaponry to Ukraine — most recently, albeit reluctantly, Leopard 2 tanks — something that sends shivers down many German spines.

Under the banner of general pacifism, many German intellectuals have opposed support for Ukraine. The feminist magazine Emma published an open letter to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, urging him not to supply weapons as this bore “the risk of a third world war”.

A placard from a peace protest outside arms company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann in Kassel, Germany, in January © Reuters
People hold banners saying ‘Peace’ and ‘No War’
Demonstrators in Berlin last year protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine © Reuters

The letter points to “the level of destruction and human suffering among the Ukrainian civilian population” as a reason not to help these very people defend themselves. Like Bäumer, today’s German pacifists see war only as meaningless suffering without purpose. “While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing,” Remarque’s hero muses, “we already knew that death-throes are stronger.”

The open letter was signed by dozens of public figures, among them actors, authors, academics and politicians. It has to date been backed by nearly half a million signatures from the wider public. Perhaps, then, it isn’t surprising that Remarque’s antiwar novel is finding such resonance again. While Berger said that when he directed his film adaptation, he “couldn’t have anticipated what would be happening in Europe right now, with a war going on”, he feels “the topic never gets old . . . now is the right time to show this film”.

In Remarque’s time in the 1920s, many German intellectuals also responded to the specific conflict of the first world war with a rejection of all wars. Unlike the victorious powers, they found it difficult to find meaning in the enormous sacrifices they had made.

In 1914, Germany stood proud and prosperous, a major European power, despite its inherent faults as a semi-autocratic state with vast social inequality. Four years later, more than 2mn of its men had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, while another 2.7mn had returned home mentally and physically scarred. The country’s mighty economy had exhausted itself; its monarchy had fallen; its pride had been injured.

Women, such as the artist Käthe Kollwitz, couldn’t understand what it had been for. She had reluctantly, and against objections from her husband, allowed her teenage son Peter to enlist. He left for the Western Front on October 12 1914 with gifts from his mother in his bag: a pocket chess set and a tattered copy of Goethe’s Faust. The family hung the back-white-red colours of the German Empire from their window in tribute. Eleven days later, Peter was shot dead in a trench in Belgium.

His mother never recovered. Kollwitz sank into depression and her art began to revolve around the horrors of war. She supported pacifist campaigns with works such her woodcut collection War and a pair of statues titled The Grieving Parents, which stand at the Vladslo German war cemetery in Belgium where Peter is buried. In 1924, Kollwitz designed a poster for the mass protests held at the 10th anniversary of the start of the first world war. Its message echoed a mantra that has endured in Germany to this day: “Never Again War.”

During the interwar period, the views of Kollwitz and fellow pacifists were by no means uncontested. Many Germans, particularly veterans, found it difficult to come to terms with the idea that all their efforts should have been in vain. The manuscript of All Quiet on the Western Front was turned down by S Fischer Verlag, one of Germany’s most prestigious publishers, and Ullstein, which published it in 1929, only did so after Remarque had toned down his antiwar messaging following criticism from several war veterans who had read the first draft.

In 1931, the Prussian state parliament ordered the book to be removed from school libraries. The Nazis burnt it in public in 1933, alongside other literature they considered degenerate. In part, this response was down to fear. Remarque’s book had already sold 1mn copies by June 1930 with a message that ran contrary to Adolf Hitler’s plans for a new European war.

If indiscriminate pacifism was still a controversial view in interbellum Germany, the second world war compounded it into national dogma. “Never again!” became a founding principle of both German postwar states. All Quiet on the Western Front was read in East and West German schools, while pupils in both countries were shown the influential 1930s film adaptation directed by Lewis Milestone.

A drawing of a woman pointing upwards
Artist Käthe Kollwitz’s ‘Never Again War’ (1924) © Alamy

Compared with the horrors of the first world war, which largely took place on foreign battlefields and could easily be mythologised, Hitler’s war had brought bombs, troops and violence to German soil. Civilians had seen the realities of war for themselves. While this made the majority wary of rearmament, their respective governments quickly became pawns in a cold war game in which they had limited room for manoeuvre.

In 1955 West Germany joined Nato, and East Germany its communist counterpart, the Warsaw Pact. Both states reintroduced conscription for men (the West in 1956, the East in 1962). Three years after the formation of the military alliances, in March 1958, the West German parliament entered into a “nuclear sharing” agreement as a Nato partner. Pilots of its newly formed armed forces, the Bundeswehr, would be trained to deliver US nuclear bombs. This appalled many Germans, just 13 years after the end of the second world war, and over the course of the spring of 1958, 1.5mn people took to the streets to protest against the decision. Pacifism was alive and well.

But neither German state had the option to become a conscientious objector to a cold war in which it was the balance of arms, including nuclear weapons, that secured peace. The US built up a nuclear arsenal in West Germany that would reach an estimated 5,000 weapons. In 1979, the Soviet Union in turn stationed SS-20 Saber missiles in East Germany that had the capability to take out all Nato bases in western Europe.

When Bonn decided to respond by allowing Nato to increase its arsenal in West Germany, Germans in both East and West were terrified. An escalation of tensions involving tactical nuclear weapons would turn their countries into a wasteland. The peace movement that had continued to grow throughout the 1960s and 1970s erupted into the largest demonstrations the country had ever seen. On one single day, October 2 1983, more than 1mn people protested across West Germany. Human chains were formed between and around cities. The whole country seemed on its feet. “Never again war!” chanted workers, intellectuals and even soldiers.

Among the pacifist activists was a young firebrand, an aspiring leader in his mid-twenties with a curly brown mane and gift for sparkling rhetoric. Olaf Scholz had become the deputy leader of the Young Socialists in 1982, the youth wing of the Social Democratic party, which he represents as German chancellor today. In his Young Socialists capacity, he travelled to East Germany to meet with like-minded youth delegations and wrote angry articles about the “aggressive-imperialist strategy of Nato”.

Scholz’s current coalition partner, the Green party, to which Baerbock belongs, also has its roots in the radical pacifism of this period. It was an SPD chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, who had supported Nato’s decision to station more missiles in the country. With no major political party to the left of the SPD, there was no real way for people to express their protest through voting. So environmental concerns and political pacifism combined to spark the formation of the Green party in 1980.

When Germany reunified a decade later in 1990 and the Soviet Union collapsed shortly afterwards, it seemed as if the German dream of the end of all wars had come true. It had endured four decades on the front line of the cold war. Now it was time to put the weapons down and live in peace. Successive German governments under Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel spent the next three decades reducing the defence budget, which hovered just above 1 per cent of gross domestic product for much of this time.

When, in 1999, Germany entered into one of its first armed conflicts since the second world war, it was, as now, run by the SPD with a Green foreign minister, Joschka Fischer. Justifying his support for Germany’s contribution to Nato’s intervention in Kosovo, which he saw as a humanitarian move, given the indications of ethnic cleansing, he pointed to the conflict inherent in unquestioning pacifism and Germany’s dogma: “I have not only learnt the phrase: never again war. I also learnt: never again Auschwitz.” As with Baerbock today, Fischer emerged as a vocal proponent of principle over pacifism in the face of war in Europe, despite their party’s antiwar roots.

People wave as a tank drives past
A Bundeswehr Leopard tank crosses the Macedonia-Kosovo border in 1999 © ullstein bild/Getty Images

But Germany’s trauma sits deep. Despite Bundeswehr deployments in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Mali, the illusion that Germany would never again be involved in large-scale war persisted. Both Schröder and Merkel believed that conflicts could always be resolved by monetary and diplomatic means, a conviction that has seen them bind the German economy tightly to those of autocratic states such as Russia and China.

It was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that woke Germany from its pacifist daydreams. While many German intellectuals continue to abhor the idea of German tanks rolling into battle against Russian ones, large sections of the public have begun to understand that pacifism does not always equate to peace. Recent surveys have shown that the majority of Germans are in favour of the government’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and that includes nearly two-thirds of SPD voters and three-quarters of those who support the once-pacifist Greens.

But Germany still has a way to go towards normalising discussions around concepts such as intervention and deterrence, and to feel comfortable in a role of power and responsibility. Some have called for this shift, including Scholz himself with his announcement of a Zeitenwende, or a turning point for his country. But the “never again” dogma persists as some studies indicate growing war weariness. A survey last month found that 43 per cent of Germans now think the war in Ukraine is not Germany’s problem, compared with 32 per cent last April.

Antiwar ideals have remained sacred to many Germans who are deeply alarmed by Scholz’s decision to approve tank exports to Ukraine. Wolfgang Merkel, a political scientist who has previously been critical of weapon deliveries to Kyiv, deems the move “strategically and morally wrong”, fearing it will bring an escalation of war for civilians in Ukraine. The philosopher Svenja Flasspöhler worries about the “nuclear ace” up Putin’s sleeve.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine may have prompted many Germans to think differently about war, to recognise that it may sometimes be necessary to defend territory, values and principles. But the German fear of war runs deep and, as the literary heart of this pacifism, All Quiet on the Western Front continues to be read and revered.

As Germans begin to grapple with the changing world around them and attempt to find a new role for their country in it, Remarque’s words still haunt many minds a century after he wrote them. “After all, war is war.”

Katja Hoyer’s ‘Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990’ will be published by Allen Lane on April 6. Her last book was ‘Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire 1871-1918’

After hours with 10 Foot, London’s most notorious graffiti writer

10 Foot differs from the other shoppers at Halfords in two ways. Firstly, true to his name, he’s taller than everyone else, much taller. Secondly, 10 Foot isn’t planning on paying for anything. “I think I’ve used more of this than anyone in the country, and I never knew it was £10.99,” he says, gazing at a 500ml can of black matt spray paint. For someone as productive as 10 Foot, one night’s supplies might cost anywhere between £80 and £150. But 10 Foot maintains a strict buy-none-get-everything-free approach to stocking up.

Today, in addition to a few cans of paint, he’s looking for enough timber to build a makeshift grappling hook and rope ladder. He won’t tell me what for, only that it’s “high stakes”. I believe him. “Let’s keep it moving,” he says. Not having found exactly what he’s looking for, he leaves empty-handed.

I still don’t know why 10 Foot agreed to meet me. He’s easily the most prolific graffiti writer in London and one of the most productive globally. He’s been repeatedly approached by fashion brands, music labels and TV showrunners with offers to collaborate, most of which he’s turned down. There are two Instagram pages, each with thousands of followers, dedicated to documenting his output. One of them, @10Foot_Everywhere, has noted his work in the background of porn videos and video games. Taxi drivers and haulage workers across Europe will likely recognise his work. I once messaged him asking which cities he’s tagged, expecting a relatively short response. Instead, I received the following:

“Yeh, I mean . . . Paris, Berlin, NYC, Philadelphia, Buenos Aires, Funchal, Lisbon, Oslo, Copenhagen, Snowdonia, Dublin, Galway, Cork, Waterford, Los Angeles, San Diego, Washington DC, New Orleans, Miami, Monterrey, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Guadalajara, Ajaccio, Milan, Sicily, Corsica, Bari, Tirana, Moscow, Marseille, Rome, Bogotá, Kuwait, Pereira, Quito, Port-au-Prince, Kingston Jamaica, Kingston Surrey, Guildford, Glasgow, San Antonio, Dominican Republic, Havana, Cancún, Panama, Taipei, Bangkok, Tokyo, Okinawa, Kyoto, Osaka. Almost every middle-sized town across the UK from Shaftesbury to Shrewsbury to Grimsby to Burnham-on-Crouch. All the far flung islands . . . Wight, Scillies, Shetlands, Orkneys, Inner and Outer Hebrides. Every state in Mexico. Anyway u get the idea lol.”

The list is extensive, but nowhere bears his mark more than London, his home, his favourite city. Sometimes his tag is spelt out, 1-0-F-O-O-T; sometimes it’s rendered visually as a foot outline next to a numerical one, with a toe doubling as the zero. It’s so widespread in London that it’s rumoured to have appeared in a recent James Bond film, though I couldn’t find it, and it was included in the opening credits of the hit show Top Boy. 10 Foot has a particular penchant for tagging bridges and overpasses, but he also paints shutters, windows, bus stops and, most significantly, London’s sprawling network of tracksides and train carriages. If you live here, to have his tag pointed out to you once is to see it almost everywhere you go.

Graffiti, from the Italian graffio, meaning scratch, is defined by New York transit police detective Bernie Jacobs in the 1983 documentary Style Wars as “the application of a medium to a surface”. Going by Jacobs’ definition, humans have been writing graffiti since the Paleolithic era. In modern terms, however, there is one crucial distinction: graffiti is not street art. It is not the mural of the nondescript, beautiful woman delicately holding a blunt from which a cloud of smoke arises spelling the word “community”. It’s not the adaptation of Magritte’s “The Lovers” with Covid-19 masks instead of veils, not the colourful depiction of John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Nelson Mandela embracing over the phrase “anything is possible”.

Graffiti, real “graf”, in London at least, consists of a “tag”, essentially a one-colour signature; a “dub”, larger, often bubble writing using mostly silver and black paints, which don’t get absorbed by brickwork; or a “piece” — more complex compositions, including a background, 3D effects, sometimes cartoon characters, the works. All of it written in a visible location, known as a “plot”. The more inaccessible or policed the plot, the better. “Is that an art form?” Jacobs asks in the film, pointing to a tag on a train carriage. “I don’t know. I’m not an art critic, but I can sure as hell tell you that that’s a crime.”

© R Seventeen

In urban centres, graffiti is so ubiquitous that it’s become part of the psychic landscape, although very little attention is paid to those who produce it. There’s no money to be made, not for those who are serious about it anyway. Not much fame either, beyond the subculture. A good way to distinguish 10 Foot from street artists like Banksy — same genus, different species — is that while street artists add value to assets or property, graffers take it away. For serious writers, the ones who do little else, graffing is about defying authority while, hopefully, avoiding arrest, injury or death.

Graffers like 10 Foot are periodically killed practising their craft. In 2018, three young writers going by the names Lover, Kbag and Trip were struck by a train in south London. The driver didn’t even know he’d hit anything until his shift was over. Some years ago, 10 Foot was jailed and served more than a year in prison for racking up criminal damage costing £113,000. When he was finally caught red-handed, multiple cops filed out to meet him looking pleased with themselves, presumably having spent years poring over thick folders with his name on the label. Apparently, one of them asked for his autograph.

You might ask why, in one of the most surveilled cities on earth, someone like 10 Foot has been able to walk out of jail, go right back to writing and remain free. The answer is simple: 10 Foot can walk through walls. Members of the collective to which he belongs, known as Diabolical Dubstars or DDS, have “finessed” the maintenance keys for the London Underground from rail control rooms. (Finesse is a term for theft that requires significant skill and/or cunning.) As a result, they can navigate the city’s hidden passageways and tunnels freely. They also know more about train timetables and trackside security than most British transport workers.

In 2012, the group was reportedly held responsible for more than £10mn worth of criminal damage. On Boxing Day 2020, Londoners awoke to find the walls of Oxford Circus Tube station almost completely redesigned by the group, which used abseiling equipment and the cover of Covid lockdowns to break on to the platforms. By the time they were done, the whole station resembled the exercise book of an alienated teenager. “They’re a mythical institution,” 10 Foot says of DDS, “the most important group in the UK by a city mile. There are hundreds of members, different chapters, a lot of 30-year friendships and a good few enmities. It’s not my story to tell, though. Explaining it to an outsider is very hard.”

We have been walking down the Old Kent Road for some 40 minutes when 10 Foot realises Wickes, a hardware store and “an unwilling sponsor of the UK graffiti movement”, is closed. He doesn’t like the alternative, B&Q. Too many friends have been nicked there. “The security guards are going on like the fucking Viet Cong,” he says. “I can imagine them hiding behind a camouflage net in the parallel aisles.” He resolves to go to central London, where he’s planning his next big mission.

Kafka tells us that a legend is contained within the movement of truth towards the inexplicable. Some people would probably call 10 Foot a legend, as they would other, older London writers like Tox, Fume, Fuel and the late King Robbo, fabled to have once slapped Banksy across the face for disrespecting him when they met in a bar. Most writers will have a story about how they or one of their mates miraculously survived a deadly fall, spent hours dangling from a palisade fence or evaded a police helicopter by hiding in a wheelie bin all night. Every tag is a close call, or so graffiti writers like to imagine.

Graf’s Promethean origins, endlessly retold, involve a teenager named Darryl McCray from a rundown neighbourhood of 1960s Philadelphia. Known to everyone as “Cornbread”, McCray developed a crush on a girl called Cynthia and began writing “Cornbread Loves Cynthia” all over North Philadelphia. The story goes that Cornbread was eventually arrested for putting his name on the side of an elephant at the Philadelphia zoo.

It wasn’t until 1981, when a writer named Futura brought the New York style of singular, colourful monikers to London, that graffiti started to take hold in the UK. There, nestled among the blood red-brick and desolate, grey concrete of Blighty, it mingled with the anarchist tradition adopted by punk bands and became something new: UK Graf, an amalgam of British political alienation and American countercultural swag.

People online have speculated about the meaning of 10 Foot’s tag, suggesting that maybe it’s a reference to the standard distance that separates railway tracks. “I’m just called 10 Foot cos I was always really tall,” he says. Much like Michael Phelps or the Kalenjin runners, 10 Foot’s body is perfectly suited to his sport. His long limbs let him reach over walls and stretch for faraway handholds. From below, you might mistake him for an enormous, broad-shouldered spider-monkey searching for fruit and grubs.

We are cycling towards Waterloo. 10 Foot rides one-handed, holding my Dictaphone with the other. “Shout if my cycling is scaring you,” he says. Struggling to keep up, I ask if he prefers painting in the centre of London where there are more police and onlookers. “Well, it depends. More people see it. And I hate painting in places like Shoreditch. I’ve painted in Shoreditch before and found people cheering me on while they drink their negronis. I like painting in places that exemplify the extremity of control.”

10 Foot, who is in his mid-thirties, has seen the city change over the decades. The buildings he used to climb through to access train tracks have, one by one, started disappearing. The past decade or so has seen dozens of council estates demolished, some replaced by garish luxury developments. Almost 150,000 social housing dwellings have been demolished in England in the past two decades. “Gentrification is a really reduced way to play down what has happened. It’s actually the ‘boringification’ of London,” he says. “I don’t mind posh people or nice sandwiches. But it’s the pseudo-nice sandwiches that get me. I remember when Chelsea was full of French restaurants and scarf wearers; now it’s just confused, wealthy Chinese tourists looking for a mass-produced panini. Nearly all the Rastas, buskers and Soho gays, London’s incredibly unique character, has been pissed away.” 10 Foot says he sees London as a semi-vegetative friend hooked up to a life-support machine.

© Eddie Otchere

Part of the strangeness of graffiti is that, while its writers are regularly thrown in jail, the same subculture they’ve risked their lives to preserve is being used to promote expensive trainers, boutique cafés and “street art” tours. Consumer capitalism has an odd love/hate relationship with graffiti, a contradiction that writers like 10 Foot have noticed and find difficult to rationalise. This tension was perfectly encapsulated in 2012, when a writer named Darren Cullen, known as Ser, was arrested on suspicion of incitement to commit criminal damage and banned from using public transport — right after being approached by Team GB to paint the Athletes’ Village.

This line between commercial acceptability and criminal liability often turns court cases into chin-stroking seminars on the nature of the art object. “Art is controversial and what appeals to one person does not necessarily appeal to another . . . You are not entitled, however, to impose your views on other people by damaging property,” a judge in Manchester told a court in 2006, before handing a 22-year-old writer a two-year, suspended prison sentence. Whether the defendant thought to invoke Gordon Matta-Clark’s severed house or Ai Weiwei’s smashed Han Dynasty urn remains unknown.

For his part, 10 Foot likes to think of himself as a fringe, cosmic anthropologist. But it occurs to me that he might be little more than an addict, suffering from a dangerous compulsion. He’s spoken before about booking early-morning flights before a romantic trip with his girlfriend, just so he can get some painting done near the airport beforehand and to avoid ruining the holiday. “Addiction is a really loaded term,” he says, when I ask him about it. “The more you retrace your behaviours, the more of a canal they become in your mind. I don’t think that there’s an addiction. It’s just behavioural. I’m so used to it. I’ve done it for so long. I’m not saying that I have the ability to not do it. All I’m contesting is the word addiction. It’s a habit.”

He swerves to avoid an approaching police car, still one-handed. Then he tells me about the time he cut his leg down to the bone on his way out of Liverpool Street station. “I didn’t go to hospital, even though it was pissing out blood. I went to do some more graf. My shoe was squelching with blood and I started to feel faint, and I just thought, God, I need to do this other spot on the tracks before I go to A&E.”

10 Foot grew up by the British seaside, far away from any large city. “I’m from Crud Britannia, not Cool Britannia,” he says. “Bunking off and smoking cheap hash by the beach huts, Ukip placards in everyone’s driveway Britannia.” He was into music, and music became his window to the wider world. I’ve agreed not to give any details that might give away 10 Foot’s identity, but I can tell you that in 2006, at a house party in north London, he met graffers Tox, Save and CK. “Before that, I’d look at a tag and I’d think, How has anyone done that with all the CCTV? Whereas nowadays, I’d knock that out at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday. Anyway,” he says, skidding to halt, “this is the bridge I wanna paint.” And I see it. And the drop below. He’s going to die, I think.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

— 17th century folk poem (seen trackside at Vauxhall station in 2022)

Turn left out of St James’s Park station, and you’ll immediately arrive at the enormous, brutalist block which houses His Majesty’s Ministry of Justice. It stands there like some giant, military bunker, casting a monumental shadow over the road. Follow the shadow and you’ll come to a similar, smaller building called Albany House. Take the lift up a few floors and, in a cluttered office surrounded by cabinets and folders, you might find Sharon Turner sitting at her desk.

Turner wanted to be a police officer from a young age, following in the boot steps of her dad, two brothers, her uncle and her godfather. She grew up watching the hit 1980s show Cagney & Lacey in which a career-minded single woman and a mother-of-three busted crime and sexism in New York. When she was younger, Turner tried for a job with London’s Metropolitan Police, but she didn’t get it. Having moved to London, she eventually landed a job with the British Transport Police (BTP) rising to lead a team tasked with combating theft and graffiti.

Sharon Turner © R Seventeen

The BTP is a strange institution. The UK’s official anti-terror slogan, “See it. Say it. Sorted,” has been cauterised on to the British subconscious, repeated endlessly through tannoys in train stations since its launch in 2016. If you do see it and subsequently say it, it’s the BTP who’ll sort it for you. The division tackles everything from ticket fraud to terrorism.

Today, she is discussing a different part of her remit: apprehending the country’s many graffiti writers. “You know, I’ve [seen] some horrific things . . . Things that give you nightmares,” she says, leaning back in her chair, next to a little poster asserting the values of her department. It ends with the phrase, “We are one BTP.” She seems slightly guarded at first, telling me, “I think that especially with the way that the media view the police at the minute, you know. Good stories don’t sell . . . They want the dirt. And they don’t realise how much that affects the people who are trying to do good out there. Ninety-nine per cent of officers join for the right reasons and want to make a difference.”

Most of what the BTP does is the kind of policing the public sees as vital: targeting robberies and sexual offences on rail networks, as well as investigating drug-smuggling rings. The graffiti task force, which contains one sergeant and eight dedicated officers, is also embroiled in a protracted guerrilla war that most people don’t even notice. One that’s been raging for at least three decades.

There have been a few notable moments in this conflict. One came in 1984 with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which gave officers the power to search people on suspicion of carrying items to commit criminal damage. Suddenly, paint-splattered jeans, loitering on Tube platforms and carrying a backpack became more risky for graffiti writers. It’s common for graffers to tell you they can spot another writer a mile off just by the way they move. It seems, thanks to her line of work, Turner has developed a similar ability. “If [a person is] loitering on the end of a platform or in a part of the station where they shouldn’t be… and you think, well, they’ve got a rucksack with them. They’ve got paint all over their hands. You build up your grounds of, what is this person doing?”

To graffiti writers, the BTP is an almost transcendental nemesis. Holmes and Moriarty, Captain Ahab and Moby-Dick. Graffers respect the BTP too, though they won’t admit it. Its officers are the only people who care about graffiti as much as they do. A good example would be Detective Constable Colin Saysell. If the BTP is the Gotham City Police Department, and Turner is Commissioner Gordon, Colin Saysell is Batman. He’s the one who put 10 Foot away, as well as his friend and mentor, Tox, along with many others. According to a 2014 Guardian article, Saysell was the only detective registered as an expert witness on graffiti in the UK. His influence over who went to prison became so singular that writers like 10 Foot now refer to him as “Colin Says-so.” In 2014, Saysell expressed a begrudging respect for the vandals he policed. “It’s often said… graffiti writers… are mindless,” he said in a lecture at the Southbank Centre. “That, ladies and gentlemen… is the last thing that they are… They’re pretty well organised. They know what they’re up to. They’re adept; they’re cunning.”

Turner has a different view. “It’s just very bizarre, you know, why people want to spend their time drawing on the side of trains . . . It’s not something that doesn’t come with risk; it comes with massive risk . . . Is it worth losing your life for?” She genuinely has no idea why graffers do this. I think back to 10 Foot’s story about almost passing-out from blood loss, trying to get his tag up before losing consciousness. “I really don’t understand it,” she continues. “You know, we turn up at people’s houses and have to tell their mum or dad that they’re dead because of [this]. It astounds me.”

Turner is also eager to correct the notion that graffiti is a victimless crime. Graffiti doesn’t just cost the rail industry £20mn per year, she says, it also negatively affects passengers and train cleaners. “Do you travel by train?” she asks. I nod. “Right, so you foot the bill. Why do you think your fare goes up every year? . . . When you’re standing on the platform and your train’s cancelled . . . do they tell you why they’ve cancelled that train? Has that train been taken out of service because someone’s drawn all over it? . . . Then they’ve got to clean the train. If they’ve etched or put acid on the windows, they have to replace the glass. Never mind that, if they’ve left acid and the cleaner doesn’t know, there’s damage to the cleaner . . . It impacts everybody.” She is referring to the acid-based pens used by some graffers, often, according to 10 Foot, the same acid used to etch logos on the side of pint glasses. Through a spokesperson, the BTP declined to comment on 10 Foot’s activity specifically.

We then come to a more fundamental point, that graffiti doesn’t look nice and makes people feel uneasy. “Go to somewhere like Milan, where there’s graffiti everywhere,” she says. “If you walk through Milan, do you actually feel safe?” She has a point. Graffiti has, through films and album covers, become the wallpaper of crime, synonymous with dereliction and antisocial behaviour. It’s a constant reminder that society is uncontrollable and fragile.

Finally, we get to the question of sentencing, which can consist of significant jail time for graffiti-related offences. I ask Turner if this is fair. “Yeah, I think it’s more than fair,” she replies. “I think our court system is broken and that we need to be dealing out a lot harsher sentences . . . How else do we deter offending when there are no consequences?” Turner looks like she’s about to go on, when her press officer tells her we’re out of time. “OK, so it’s not a violent crime,” she concludes, reiterating her point about the injured cleaner. “[But] it’s the bigger picture.”

10 Foot is staring up at 3-metre-tall barrier topped with menacing steel prongs. It’s night-time in central London. He produces a jangling bunch of keys from his pocket and, after a short process of trial and error, the padlock clanks open and he meticulously slides it off the chain. Beyond the gate, there’s a narrow courtyard with a stairwell leading to the tracks above. A brightly lit depot overlooks the area. There are voices coming from inside.

10 Foot creeps cartoon-style over to the stairwell and silently unlocks the metal door. The trains are still running. There’s a mystical quality to the trackside at night. Framed on all sides by the London skyline, it’s reminiscent of “the zone” from the film Stalker: a liminal space complete with its own set of wonders and hidden terrors. There are three rails: two for the wheels and one for the foot of the train. The third rail is the one “you gotta watch out for”, according to 10 Foot. “That one can kill you, but I’m still alive so . . . ”

Trespassers risk their lives. When the blades switch to redirect the train, their feet can get caught. And if not freed quickly, they’ll be “turned to vermicelli”, as 10 Foot puts it. “I’m on the ball in this situation. It’s sort of my environment. I’ve always got my eye on trains. The problem is, I suppose, that when there’s a train going past you can’t hear another one coming. That’s the only thing I’m scared of.”

A wind starts to pick up, distant at first, but building quickly. 10 Foot’s eyes widen. “You can hear them whispering,” he says. Then he jumps into the weeds on the side of the tracks just in time to see the Thameslink go thundering past, barely a metre in front of him. You should never look a train in the eye, he told me. That’s the rule. The eyes of a train can turn you to stone. Always turn away so the driver can’t see you, and don’t move until the front passes. As the carriages roll by, 10 Foot can see passengers sleeping, heads resting against the glass. “They’re like these quotidian mythical creatures, like great big whales or dragons.”

Eventually, he arrives at a rusty ladder leading to another track about four metres above. 10 Foot begins climbing, almost becoming a child again behind his balaclava. He darts about skipping over deadly rails, putting his name on things, finding tags his friends put up over a decade ago.

There’s a hierarchy to trackside graffiti. The divide mostly lies between those who paint British Rail, where 10 Foot is now, and those who paint the Tube. “It’s like different leagues,” 10 Foot says. “Tube writers really look down on BR writers.” Tube writing is much more difficult and involves accessing dangerous maintenance shafts, but there’s an aesthetic difference too. Tube trains, as 10 Foot puts it, are “red, white and blue icons”, whereas British Rail trains look more like “hospitals on wheels. Looking at the Thameslink trains with the halogen lighting, you half-expect a heart attack patient to be wheeled out: 17.05 service to Bedford.”

The Tube is a different game entirely. “We’ve been in the tunnels before and heard the wind coming towards us and run and run and run. You just have to hope there’s an alcove or something.” There are two types of tunnels in the Tube system. The first are called “cut and cover”, through which steam trains used to run. They’re essentially canals cut through the city with a street laid on top, lots of space. The others, the round ones, are “deep lines.” There’s no space in there, although 10 Foot has an untested theory you can grab the wires on the side and wrap your body around the carriage. This seems unlikely.

© R Seventeen

Later, 10 Foot is about 15 metres up, perched on a railway bridge. He can see people walking down on the pavement below. He can hear their conversations. The Shard glows in the distance. Suddenly, 10 Foot sees a spot he hasn’t tagged before and, holding on with just one arm, dangles from the bridge, spray-can hissing in the other, a sheer drop to concrete below. Back in the day, we’d probably have parachuted people like him into occupied territory. Pulling himself back up, he spots two railway workers about 30 metres down the tracks, steadily making their way towards him.

I’m at a church in north London when I catch a glimpse of 10 Foot’s other life, the one I can’t tell you about. I once asked 10 Foot what he did for a living. He just laughed and said, “Crime.” I never asked again. But in his spare time, 10 Foot likes to write things. Things other than his own name: poems, diaries, polemics. He’s good at it; it’s what got him through prison. His girlfriend, who was hosting the event at the church, is also good at it. And they were both standing by a converted crypt, reading their stuff to an assembled crowd.

Some of the people in the audience are young graf enthusiasts, fans of his who caught the train across London to see the man they know as 10 Foot outside his mythic context. You can spot the ones who are too nervous to approach him. There are also friends from his other life, the one outside graffiti. They are older, for the most part, perhaps wiser. Some of the DDS crew are here too, and Tox hangs around afterwards, a little distracted, looking at his phone for live updates from British Rail.

We all lead multiple lives. It’s just that one of 10 Foot’s lives could kill him or lock him away. When his girlfriend jokingly compared his soft cheeks to a cherub’s bottom during her reading, I remembered thinking how there seemed to be real love between them. How awful it would be if one day the BTP got to those soft cheeks before she did.

As the evening drew to a close, 10 Foot, introduced by his real name, read an account of one of his graffiti missions. I was taken aback. His two lives were colliding. His dangerous, secretive profession had swooped in like a crow flying headfirst into a stained-glass window, shattering it to pieces. This is what his graffiti fans came all this way for, not that he cares much about that kind of thing.

The reading ended with 10 Foot describing how he once looked down and spotted an earwig crawling over a cigarette butt between two bottle caps. That’s like me, he thought to himself, before heading out to paint a dub on a particularly inaccessible bridge, walking boldly on to the rails, “Past all the ‘no entry’ signs, the ‘trespass is a crime’ signs, the ‘police may be called’ signs, the ‘£2,500 fine’ signs and the ‘three-month imprisonment’ signs.”

The account went on for a long while, but people were transfixed. This, I think, is partly why 10 Foot has been able to accrue such legendary status. It’s not just that he’s up everywhere, all over the world. It’s not just that his tag appears in movies and TV shows. He sees graffiti as an exercise in community and a refutation of the same social contract that the late David Graeber, his idol, railed against in his books. It’s bigger than him. Graffiti matters to 10 Foot on a base, almost spiritual level and, in some way, that shines through.

On St George’s Circus, just up from Elephant and Castle, sits a little restaurant called Chillies Tandoori and, outside in the cool night air, 10 Foot is shovelling a large spoon of saag aloo into his mouth. 10 Foot loves it here, probably because it’s cheap, open past 2am on weekdays and you can bring your own bottle. Such is 10 Foot’s devotion that he once risked his life to paint a large Chillies Tandoori piece on the side of an Underground train. When he sent a picture of it to the restaurant anonymously, it wasn’t put up on the wall, which probably hurt his feelings.

In another life, 10 Foot would be a brilliant food critic. He once told me he’d be an invaluable resource for FT Globetrotter, only he didn’t want foodies ruining his favourite spots. “I know the best places to eat in London. Not based on the food, just the energy: Di Lieto’s in Kennington, Sami’s in Hendon, Spuds in Kingston — best omelette on the planet, Roti Joupa in Clapham — RIP.” I ask him if he’d ever vandalise this place. “No, I wouldn’t,” he says. When I ask him why not, he looks slightly aggrieved.

The shifting line between what is and isn’t OK to tag is more important to 10 Foot than he’d like to let on. There’s an unspoken graf precept which prohibits “doing damage”, or writing on cars, trees, churches and people’s homes. Though this doesn’t hold true everywhere. Once at a leisure centre where he used to go to the gym, he flippantly scrawled his name on a mirror. Later, the manager, a Sikh man in his forties, pulled him aside. He told 10 Foot that he wasn’t going to call the police but wanted him to know that the centre was community based, and graffiti made it look grotty. He relied on the place looking smart to get funding. “People will think we’re not running it well,” the man said. The way he spoke was so outside the usual justice system paradigm that it caught 10 Foot off-guard. He later bought the centre a new mirror.

“Have you ever been underneath the Barbican Centre?” 10 Foot asks, changing the subject. “It’s like the negative of the biggest brutalist construction in London. There are all these caverns. Some points you have to crawl through. In others, there are these massive pits where, if you fell into them, you’d die in there because nobody would find you. I’ve been in all the disused stations as well, that’s part of what this is about.”

This image of the graffer-as-explorer, occupying the forgotten parts of the city, helps keep the legend alive. There are entire forums dedicated to “urban exploring”, something graffiti writers like 10 Foot resent. “These places used to be sacred. Now there are all these high-definition photos of them online and instructions of how to get inside, places like Old Brompton or Bull and Bush station, and these urb-ex people just ruined them. These were places DDS had been and kept safe. These are the armpits of London.”

“People say they know London,” he says. “But do they really? I know the roofs of every council estate. I’ve been to most prisons in London, most Tube tunnels, most stations. I’ve walked around every sewage treatment plant: Hampton waterworks, Mogden sewage treatment plant. I’m not even exaggerating. I’ve written my name there so you can go and look.” He’s getting excited now. “I’ve been to every Docklands industrial estate, all the backstreets in Marylebone. I’ve cycled the canal 30 miles from Broxbourne to Shadwell, then back to Watford. I’ve been down footpaths where there’s no graffiti; that’s saying something.”

One by one, diners begin to leave. It’s midnight. We’ve nearly got through all the beer we brought from the off-licence down the road. I’m feeling it, but 10 Foot is holding it down. I wonder out loud if he finds fame weird. “You know, rappers wear T-shirts that I made in my bathroom. That guy KSI wore one on stage recently,” he says referring to the popular influencer. “I didn’t know who he was, but apparently he’s big. It’s pretty weird for me, being known. Standing on the platform and hearing some 12-year-old telling their mum about why I’m their favourite person.”

Then his arrest comes to mind, the one that landed him in prison for more than a year. He was stupid back then and, when he’d get a new burner phone, he’d send out a tranche of texts reading: “Hello this is 10 Foot, if u r painting graf then pls save this number.” In the end, they caught him “chrome-handed” on the side of a bridge, with the Thames rolling underneath. He saw the blue light of a police speed boat coming down the river, and remembers saying something like, “Someone’s getting nicked tonight, unlucky them.” Then the spotlight hit, and he and his accomplice turned to each other like Beavis and Butt-Head. “Oh shit, it’s us!” He ended up in Charing Cross police station. Since 2019, that station has been covered in commissioned street art murals that read: “be creative.”

So when does he pack it in? It’s almost 1am by the time I finally ask him. 10 Foot finishes the last of his beer. “What seems to happen is people say, ‘Fuck the system,’ for as long as they have stamina, until they get overwhelmed by it. So I’m trying to turn that impulse into something more positive in case I have a child or something . . . ” His voice is drowned out, as someone walks past with a boombox blaring Turkish music.

It’s been months since I started profiling this bizarre criminal and, honestly, I’ve enjoyed getting to know him. Though I also worry about him. I don’t think he can sustain whatever this is. He can’t keep trying to be the best, the most up. At some point he’ll have to stop and, when that time comes, he’ll struggle to find something else. Perhaps he never will. Perhaps graffiti will finish him off like so many other graffers, turned to heroin ghosts on London’s high streets or perhaps he’ll end up an inmate again, for longer next time, or ground into paste by a train. It’s time to leave. We dispose of our empties, and 10 Foot mounts his bike. Considering his size, it’s amazing how quickly he can disappear once you say goodbye. London can swallow you up like that.

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Britain’s new crypto plans step up competition with EU regulations

The competition between the UK and EU to lure crypto business has stepped up a notch after Britain unveiled a slate of new rules for regulating the industry months after Brussels finalised sweeping rules to regulate digital assets.

The UK on Wednesday unveiled sweeping proposals that would pull large swaths of the crypto industry into the type of regulatory regime that applies to traditional financial institutions and assets.

The slate of new rules are one of the clearest signs yet of how the government is keen to bring digital assets business to the City of London, but industry participants and analysts say the ambitions face steep competition from the EU-wide Markets in Crypto-assets (Mica) regulation that was finalised last summer.

“We fear that the UK’s desire to be a global crypto hub will be usurped by another faster acting jurisdiction. The UK is taking baby steps whilst the EU [and US] surge ahead,” said Zoe Wyatt, partner and head of crypto at specialist tax advisory firm Andersen LLP.

A consultation process for the UK government’s proposed rules closes in April and key stages in the implementation process — including the creation of secondary legislation necessary to bring many elements into effect — are subject to change. In contrast Europe’s Mica legislation is expected to make landfall next year.

The UK Treasury told the Financial Times it believes the UK’s approach “is more nimble and proportionate” than the bloc’s Mica regulation because the government is seeking to bring crypto into an established regulatory sphere rather than erect an entirely new approach.

“We are bringing stablecoin and crypto asset activities into the existing financial services framework via secondary legislation. This means that the UK will be able to update regulation as the sector evolves, rather than hard-coding detailed rules in legislation like Mica.”

Although in the eyes of some industry watchers the UK’s proposals have not come early enough to grant London a moniker of Europe’s future hub for digital assets.

“This is typical retro-regulation. Consumer protection rules for crypto are only being introduced after FTX,” said Carol Alexander, professor of finance at Sussex University, referring to last year’s collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s digital trading empire.

The UK’s proposals also face a series of political and practical challenges which risk blunting the government’s ambitions.

“The fear that innovation might be stifled, I think that is the fear that becomes more acute without a government that is keen to have the UK as a crypto business sector,” said James Tyler, senior associate at law firm Peters and Peters, adding the proposals are “riding on quite a lot of political effort from the current government.”

The Financial Conduct Authority — which was hit by rising vacancies and falling morale last summer — will also inherit greater oversight of crypto activity under the government’s proposals, placing pressure on the regulator’s resources.

The FCA began forming crypto teams before the summer in preparation for its potential role in regulating the sector, adding that they felt it was well prepared, according to a person familiar with the agency.

Despite coming several month’s after the EU’s Mica plans were finalised, the UK proposals have garnered praise from some in industry for giving Britain a chance to catch up with the bloc’s crypto momentum.

Several major crypto groups including industry heavyweight Binance and US-listed exchange Coinbase have already set up within the EU, planting flags before Mica comes into effect. In contrast, many crypto groups have struggled to meet the FCA’s high standards to registration on the current regime, which examines anti-money laundering measures. More than eight in 10 companies that have applied for the FCA registration have failed.

“We set high standards of anti-money laundering controls for all the financial firms we supervise. Those same standards apply to crypto firms, and are vital in ensuring they are not left open to abuse by criminals,” the FCA said.

The government’s proposals seek to bring crypto lending into the regulatory perimeter, a sector which lay at the heart of last summer’s crisis of confidence, and which has yet to come under an established regulatory framework across the English Channel.

“The UK’s proposals seem to go even further by, for example, also establishing a regime for crypto lending,” said German MEP Markus Ferber, adding the need for caution when it comes to “intermingling the crypto space and the regular financial system too much.”

European lawmakers have previously raised concerns that Mica would not have successfully prevented an FTX-style collapse on the bloc’s shores.

“The UK has a good crypto and blockchain ecosystem, but Europe’s Mica regime presented an existential threat to the UK’s crypto hub ambitions. This now brings us back to a level playing field,” said Ian Taylor, board adviser for CryptoUK, a British crypto lobbying group.

“Greater regulatory clarity for consumers and businesses will in turn be key to making the government’s vision for crypto a reality,” added Lisa Cameron, Scottish National Party MP who serves as Chair of the Crypto and Digital Assets All Party Parliamentary Group in Westminster.

Additional reporting by Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan

US set to give Ukraine longer-range smart bombs

The US is expected to send ground-launched small-diameter bombs that would double Ukraine’s current strike range as part of a nearly $2.2bn aid package to be announced on Friday, according to people familiar with the matter.

The smart bombs have a range of 94 miles and can be fired from several kinds of rocket launchers including Himars that have been sent to the country. Ukraine’s longest-range bomb is the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, which has a range of 53 miles.

Friday’s package follows a joint announcement by the US and Germany last week to send main battle tanks in a shift towards heavier and more offensive weaponry as the west seeks to prepare Ukraine to go back on the counteroffensive in the spring. Russia has amassed more than 300,000 troops in Ukraine and is stepping up artillery attacks in brutal battles in the east of the country. Ukrainian officials warn Russia is preparing to go back on the offensive in the coming weeks.

While the bomb system will help Ukraine attack Russian targets previously out of reach, it falls short of Kyiv’s pleas for the even longer-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which can reach 185 miles.

American officials continue to rebuff Ukrainian requests for ATACMS over concerns that Kyiv would use the systems to strike targets inside of Russia, risking drawing Moscow into direct conflict with Nato.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday warned that the decision to send longer-range bombs could prolong the war.

“Now we are striving to push away [Ukrainian] artillery to a distance that will not threaten our territory,” Lavrov said in an interview with state newswire Ria Novosti. “The longer the range of weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime by the west, the further away we need to move them from Russian borders.”

The US will grant contracting funds for Ukraine to purchase the ground launched small diameter bombs, part of about $1.7bn in assistance coming from a fund called the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The package will also include $425mn in aid to come directly from US weapons stockpiles.

The relatively low-cost system is a joint project by Saab and Boeing, which combines a 113kg precision-guided munition with a rocket. According to Saab, the system is so precise it can hit within the radius of a car tyre.

The package would also include air defence components, additional ammunition and spare parts for systems already on the battlefield, people familiar with the matter said.

NatWest boss U-turns on refusal to attend parliamentary hearing

NatWest chief executive Alison Rose has backed down in a spat with the House of Commons Treasury select committee and agreed to attend a hearing next week after initially saying she was “too busy”.

Rose, who runs one of the UK’s largest consumer lenders, had told MPs that she was unable to appear because she was preparing for its annual results the following week, the Financial Times reported yesterday. She had even rebuffed a personal appeal from committee chair Harriett Baldwin.

However, after public pressure from MPs on the committee, her own board and a second phone call with Baldwin, Rose backed down, according to people familiar with the matter. David Lindberg, head of NatWest’s retail bank, will no longer be sent in her place.

“Following further discussions with the Treasury committee on the vital issues at hand, Alison Rose will be attending next week’s committee hearing,” NatWest said in a statement on Thursday.

Baldwin had also been keen for Rose to attend to avoid an all-male panel.

Rose, who was made a dame in the new year’s honours list, has run the state-backed bank since November 2019 and was paid £3.6mn in 2021.

The government still owns 46 per cent of NatWest’s shares after its bailout during the financial crisis, when it was known as Royal Bank of Scotland.

The hearing on Tuesday promises to be challenging for Rose and three other executives from the country’s biggest high street banks: Charlie Nunn, Lloyds Banking Group chief executive; Ian Stuart, CEO of HSBC’s UK bank; and Matt Hammerstein, who is taking the place of Barclays boss CS Venkatakrishnan, who is undergoing treatment for cancer.

MPs will question the bankers on why they have failed to pass on benefits from rising interest rates to ordinary savers, while increasing borrowing costs on mortgages and personal and corporate loans.

Politicians say they have been “inundated” with complaints from their constituents about the issue.

Banks have been reporting substantial increases in their profits due to a windfall from interest rate rises. On Thursday, The Bank of England increased the base rate by half a percentage point to a 15-year high of 4 per cent.

This has meant that lenders have seen a dramatic improvement in their net interest margins, the difference between what they pay for deposits and what they earn from lending.

NatWest has increased the rate on its basic savings account from 0.01 per cent in December 2021 to 0.65 per cent now. Similarly, Barclays, Lloyds and HSBC have set them at 0.55 per cent, 0.6 per cent and 0.65 per cent, respectively.

By contrast, the average interest on a two-year fixed-rate mortgage has more than doubled to 5.44 per cent, Moneyfacts data show, compared to 2.44 per cent a year ago.

“MPs will ask why these [savings] rates are so low, and whether banks can be doing more to advise customers on how to arrange their funds to maximise the return they receive,” Baldwin said in a statement.

“The committee may explore whether banks are boosting their profits by increasing the gap between the interest paid out to savers and the interest paid in by borrowers.”

Some banks with only an online presence in the UK have much more attractive savings rates. JPMorgan’s Chase UK is offering 2.7 per cent, while Goldman Sachs’s Marcus UK has 2.5 per cent for the first 12 months.

BoE takes a newly pessimistic view of the economy

As members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee deliberated on another interest rate rise on Thursday, they had two new issues to grapple with.

The nine MPC members, including BoE governor Andrew Bailey, had to factor in the good news of a sharp fall in wholesale energy prices, and then fit this into the committee’s newly pessimistic view of the UK economy’s potential to grow without generating inflation.

The result was rather messy. Although the BoE’s new forecasts showed inflation falling well below the central bank’s 2 per cent target by next year, MPC members voted by a majority of seven to two to raise interest rates from 3.5 per cent to 4 per cent.

At a news conference, senior BoE officials justified the move as being akin to buying insurance against future price rises — just in case the inflation forecasts proved to be wrong. Consumer price inflation stood at 10.5 per cent in December, down from a peak of 11.1 per cent in October.

“It’s too soon to declare victory [over inflation] just yet,” said Bailey. “We need to be absolutely sure that we really are turning the corner on inflation.”

The majority of MPC members said in the minutes that they put more weight on strong wage and employment data and “relatively less [weight] on the medium-term projections” for inflation.

They added that the desire to be absolutely sure they have defeated inflation might result in further rate rises.

Sir Dave Ramsden, BoE deputy governor, said the MPC was “having to use [the central bank forecasts] in a more nuanced way than we did in the first 10 years of the MPC”.

But the forecasts suggested MPC members need not have increased interest rates at their February meeting.

Whether the MPC looked at the mode, the median or the mean of the forecasts, interest rates of 4 per cent left inflation too low in two years’ time, and much too low in three years’ time, with at least a 50 per cent chance it will be under 1 per cent.

George Buckley, chief UK economist at Nomura, said “the bank’s end-horizon view for inflation [in 2026] remains exceptionally weak”.

The underlying message from the BoE inflation forecasts was therefore that, if they turn out to be correct, interest rates could soon be falling quite quickly.

Bailey confirmed this in a roundabout way, saying: “If the economy evolves as in the central case [of the forecasts], we will set policy according to that.”

But if the outlook for inflation was good, the BoE growth forecasts were bad.

The IMF had sent shockwaves across the Atlantic on Tuesday with a forecast that Britain’s economy would slide into recession this year — and be the only industrialised country to do so.

The BoE did not differ much. Its forecast was slightly worse than the IMF for 2023, with a drop in UK gross domestic product of 0.7 per cent in the fourth quarter compared with one year earlier. The BoE was also gloomy about 2024, with the central bank predicting stagnation, while the fund expects growth of 1.8 per cent.

Yael Selfin, economist at KPMG, said the BoE’s short-term growth forecasts would make difficult reading for Britons. The central bank “paints a gloomier picture for the UK economy, which is suffering stronger headwinds compared to its peers”, she added.

The BoE now expects a shorter and shallower recession than MPC members did at their November meeting, but the fine details show that GDP is not expected to reach pre-Covid levels until 2026.

Ben Broadbent, another BoE deputy governor, said the IMF was likely to be correct in singling the UK out as having the weakest economic prospects among industrialised countries this year, although he added the differences were small.

He pointed to unique problems the UK faced in the short-term, including declining participation in the labour market, especially among older people. He also highlighted the UK’s higher dependency on natural gas compared to elsewhere in Europe, which would continue to lower British household incomes, and the faster translation of higher interest rates into more expensive mortgages, which would lower consumer spending.

“These are not things that will last for ever,” said Broadbent, trying to be reassuring about prospects.

But the BoE’s long-term outlook was bleak. Underpinning the MPC members’ view was new thinking that the UK cannot sustain a growth rate of 1 per cent a year any longer without generating inflation. Previously, they thought annual growth of 1.5 per cent would not generate inflation.

BoE officials did not try to downplay the difficulties of living in an economy that used to grow at an annual rate of 2.5 per cent before the financial crisis, and one that could sustain about 1.7 per cent before coronavirus.

Column chart of Growth in UK potential supply (% per year) showing Supply has been hit by Brexit, Covid and the cost of living crisis

Bailey blamed “the change in the trading relationship with the EU”, along with effects from the pandemic and higher energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which had lowered UK productivity growth and reduced the size of the labour force.

The BoE recognises that, with few motors for growth, UK conditions will be difficult for households and companies, even if the central bank is able to consider cutting interest rates soon.

James Smith, research director at the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank, said: “Families are living through a sharp two-year living standards downturn, and Britain is living through a 20-year growth stagnation — the worst since the interwar years.”