Wednesday evening news briefing: Zelensky's plea for 'powerful English planes'

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Good evening. Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Britain to provide Ukraine with fighter jets, as he made an impassioned speech to MPs and met the King at Buckingham Palace during a historic visit to London.

Evening briefing: Today's essential headlines

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The big story: Zelensky's historic visit to London

Volodymyr Zelensky said his last trip to Parliament ended with him thanking his hosts for "delicious English tea", but, today, he would leave "thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes," as he brought a historic address to MPs in Westminster Hall to a close.

The surprise trip was the first time the Ukrainian president has visited the UK since the start of Russia's invasion and only his second foreign trip in wartime.

During his speech, Mr Zelensky thanked Britain for "marching" with Ukraine towards "the most important victory of our lifetime", and called on Western allies to provide "wings for freedom" to defend against Russian aggression.

As shimmering light streamed through the stained-glass window behind him, he handed Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, a helmet used by one of Ukraine’s fighter pilots.

He also singled out Boris Johnson for particular praise during his speech - you can read the full transcript of Mr Zelensky's historic Westminster Hall address here. Mr Johnson subsequently stepped up the pressure on Rishi Sunak to send jets and tanks to Ukraine. The former prime minister said more than 100 Typhoon jets were held by the UK and "the best single use" for them would be in Ukraine.

No 10 said this afternoon that the Prime Minister has ordered the Ministry of Defence to “investigate” what fighter jets Britain may be able to send to Ukraine. Earlier in the day, Downing Street said Britain would be starting to train Ukrainian fighter pilots “as soon as possible”.

Analysts said it was not clear whether Mr Sunak intended to send Ukraine Western-standard jets from Britain’s own arsenal or is planning to use its simulators to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s.

Efforts to train Ukrainian pilots on Nato-standard fighter jets would likely focus on simulation to bring them up to scratch with tactics and cockpit procedures, according to military aviation experts.

Greg Bagwell, a retired combat pilot who was the UK’s Air Commander for four years, argues that Britain’s ‘Top Gun’ school could make Ukraine’s pilots even deadlier. He writes that while not offering actual aircraft, it could be a vital step in that process and maintain the momentum of western military aid.

Zelensky meets the King

During his speech, Mr Zelensky paid tribute to King Charles, noting his RAF background, saying: "The King was an Air Force pilot, and in Ukraine every Air Force pilot is a king."

The Ukrainian President then left Westminster Hall to meet the King in person at Buckingham Palace. Mr Zelensky was dressed in his trademark khaki green military fatigues as he was welcomed to the royal residence. Tea was served, as the King told Mr Zelensky: "We've all been worried about you and thinking about your country for so long, I can't tell you." The Ukrainian President said it was "a great honour" to be at Buckingham Palace.

'Major coup for Brexit Britain'

When news of Mr Zelensky’s secret trip broke, you could almost hear the lips pursing in irritation in Europe if you closed your eyes and listened hard enough, writes our Europe editor James Crisp.

In Brussels, officials have been boasting that the Ukrainian president would, of course, choose the EU for his second overseas visit after the US. It is, after all, an economic superpower that was ready one day to welcome Ukraine into the fold of its 477 million-strong trading bloc.

Instead, Mr Zelensky picked the UK. By doing so, he placed a big feather in the cap of Global Britain. Read this article to find out how British foreign policy is finally moving beyond Brexit after years of being consumed by it.

Comment and analysis

World news: Putin linked to supply of MH17 missile

Vladimir Putin likely personally approved the decision to supply the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and killed 298 people in 2014, international investigators have said. But there was not enough evidence of Putin’s involvement to lead to a criminal conviction and the investigation would end without further prosecutions. Prosecutors said a phone intercept between Russian officials proved that Putin’s approval was needed before a request for the missile from the rebels was granted.

Wednesday interview

Kenny Logan: ‘I’ve got the all clear from cancer – but our sex life is not back to normal’

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Sport news: Borthwick drops Ben Youngs from squad

Steve Borthwick has dropped Ben Youngs, England's most-capped men’s player, from his matchday squad to face Italy on Sunday. The head coach has retained a 29-player squad to prepare for the Azzurri at Twickenham, with Anthony Watson and Ben Curry casualties alongside Youngs from the Scotland loss in round one of the Six Nations. Jack van Poortvliet, who started in the defeat against Gregor Townsend's side, and Alex Mitchell - who won a solitary cap in 2021 - will fight for the starting scrum-half jersey, with Youngs dropping out of the squad altogether.

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Business news: Record £1m homes outside London

The number of £1m-plus homes located outside of London has reached a record high after affluent households fled the capital and forced up prices. One in 40 homeowners are now property millionaires after price growth pushed more than 41,200 properties over the £1m threshold in 2022, according to analysis by estate agency Savills. There are 730,390 homes valued at £1m or more, a rise of 40pc compared with the beginning of 2020, thanks to a pandemic-fuelled boom which saw buyers chase bigger homes and gardens.

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And finally... for this evening's downtime

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