Theresa May, the Prime Minister, returned from a trip to Brussels and Dublin and hurried to the Commons to ask for more time to do something or other about the Irish backstop. The much-kicked Brexit can was expected to land in the parliamentary road again on 27 February, though the government envisaged no ‘meaningful vote’ until March. Oliver Robbins, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, was overheard in a bar saying that the choice might be between Mrs May’s deal or a delay to Brexit, to which the EU would agree. Brexit had taken an eschatological turn after Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said at a press conference: ‘By the way, I have been wondering what the special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.’ Labour advocated a customs union for the whole of the United Kingdom. Replying in a letter, May said that the draft political declaration ‘explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union’. The new Brexit party, supported by Nigel Farage, was recognised by the Electoral Commission.
Racing was cancelled for six days, with the discovery of ten cases of equine flu, including four at Newmarket, where 3,000 horses are in training. The High Court lifted an injunction against the Daily Telegraph reporting allegations (which he denies) of sexual and racial abuse and bullying against Sir Philip Green, made by five employees who had signed non-disclosure agreements. Brendan McCarthy, who practised under the name Dr Evil, pleaded guilty on three charges of grievous bodily harm for body-modifications such as tongue-splitting, even though his clients had given consent.
Britain’s gross domestic product grew by only 0.2 per cent in the last quarter of 2018, bringing growth for 2018 to 1.4 per cent, the lowest since 2012. The annual rate of inflation fell to 1.8 per cent from 2.1 per cent on December. After Arklow Shipping, an Irish company, withdrew support, Seaborne Freight lost its contract with the Department for Transport to operate ferries from Ramsgate to Ostend in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Edinburgh councillors voted in favour of a tourist tax of £2 a night. Councils received more than 1.8 million complaints last year about dustbins not being emptied. Albert Finney, the actor perhaps best known for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and The Dresser (1983), died aged 82. Gordon Banks, the goalkeeper in England’s World Cup-winning team in 1966, died aged 81.
The 13th weekend of gilets jaunes protests in France ended with left and right factions fighting in the streets of Lyon. France recalled its ambassador to Italy for talks after Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the Five Star Movement and the deputy prime minister of Italy, met French gilets jaunes protesters near Paris. Twelve leaders of Catalonia’s failed declaration of independence in 2017 went on trial in Madrid, charged with rebellion and sedition. Switzerland ratified an agreement to continue trading with Britain after Brexit as it had before it. Flights in and out of Belgium were cancelled for a day when air traffic controllers went on strike.
Kurdish-led American-backed troops of the Syrian Democratic Forces attacked about 600 men of Islamic State in eastern Syria, where the Euphrates flows into Iraq. In the port of Hudaydah in Yemen, supplies in the Red Sea Mills, which hold enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, were said by the UN to be in danger of rotting. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, aged 81, seldom seen in public since a stroke in 2013, announced that he would stand for the fifth time for the presidency in April. At least 17 people died in a fire at the Hotel Arpit Palace in the Karol Bagh area of Delhi. Katy Perry, the American singer, withdrew a range of black shoes with blue eyes painted on them after some people angrily said they reminded them of blackface make-up.
The Turkish foreign ministry complained that in China ‘one million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons’. Russia drafted a law to allow it to cut itself off from the internet briefly, to test its cyber defences. King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand denounced the candidacy of his sister Princess Ubolratana Mahidol for the post of prime minister. Pete Hegseth, a presenter on Fox News, said on air: ‘I don’t think I’ve washed my hands for ten years.’ CSH