The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 9 March 2017

Portrait of the Week - 9 March 2017
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The Lords passed two amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, voting by 358 to 256 to guarantee the residence rights after Brexit of EU nationals living in Britain, then by 366 to 268 to give Parliament ‘a meaningful vote’ on the final Brexit deal. Lord Heseltine was sacked as an adviser to the government for voting for the latter amendment. Jeremy Corbyn published details of his tax return, which showed a total income of £114,342 but proved puzzling because, according to the Labour party, the £27,192 received for his first seven months as leader of the opposition was included under pension and benefits income. Professor Stephen Hawking, the well-known physicist, said, ‘I regard Corbyn as a disaster,’ adding, ‘I think he should step down for the sake of the party.’ Transport for London set about building 400 houses in Greenwich in the hope of making more than £1 billion. The annual rate of house-price inflation fell to 5.1 per cent, against 10 per cent a year earlier.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented the Budget in possession of higher than expected tax receipts. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast of growth this year, he said, had been revised from 1.4 to 2 per cent. He said the Budget provided a ‘strong, stable platform for Brexit’. National Insurance would go up for the self-employed. There was some business-rate relief for enterprises (specifically 90 per cent of pubs) hit by rises and £2 billion over three years for social care. He drew attention to new T-levels for technical education and funding for 110 new free schools. GP triage at A&E departments would get £100 million this winter.

Elections in Northern Ireland left the Democratic Unionists with 28 seats and Sinn Fein with 27, the SDLP with 12 and the Ulster Unionists with ten. The DUP, by falling below 30 seats, lost its power over the ‘petition of concern’ mechanism that has in the past acted like a veto. There were fears that same-sex marriage legislation might now be introduced. PSA, the owner of Peugeot and Citroën, agreed to buy GM’s European operations for £1.9 billion, including the Vauxhall factories at Ellesmere Port and Luton that employ 4,500 people. Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life agreed a merger that would create a fund manager overseeing assets worth £660 billion. The singer George Michael died aged 53 on Christmas day of natural causes, from heart and liver disease, a coroner found. Arsenal lost at home 5-1 to Bayern Munich in a Champions League game.

Abroad

President Trump issued a new executive order banning the entry of all refugees for 120 days and halting for 90 days entry to America for people from six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — but excepting Iraq, which had been included in an order made in January and ruled unlawful in the courts. Earlier, Mr Trump had tweeted a message saying: ‘How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process.’ James Clapper, Mr Obama’s director of national intelligence, said: ‘I can deny it.’ WikiLeaks claimed that the CIA spied on people from inside television sets. Police in the Spanish province of Leon arrested a Romanian man in connection with the sudden simultaneous disappearance of 160 people after lunch in a restaurant in Ponferrada, leaving an unpaid bill of €9,000.

North Korea prevented all Malaysians (thought to number 11) from leaving the country and Malaysia angrily reciprocated against the 1,000 or so North Koreans there. This followed a postmortem finding that Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s ruler, had been killed by the VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur airport. North Korea launched four ballistic missiles, three of which fell into a Japanese area of sea. China cut its growth target to 6.5 per cent and increased its military spending by 7 per cent. Melbourne introduced lights in the shape of women in skirts at pedestrian crossings, to promote gender equality.

Thousands of civilians streamed out of Mosul as Iraqi forces took the main government offices there, while the Islamic State retained control of the old city. Jordan hanged ten convicted terrorists and five others found guilty of sexual crimes. Tristan Voorspuy, a former British army officer, was shot dead on his ranch in drought-afflicted Laikipia, Kenya, by pastoral herders. Peru recalled its ambassador to Venezuela after Venezuela’s foreign minister called Peru’s president a coward and a dog.       CSH