The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 1 March 2018

Also in Portrait of the Week: Sky News, snow, the Leicester explosion and Syria

Portrait of the week | 1 March 2018
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Crisis loomed over Brexit negotiations as Theresa May, the Prime Minister, travelled to the north-east to explain ‘this Government’s vision of what our future economic partnership with the European Union should look like’. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, had announced that its Brexit policy was now ‘to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union’ that would still (somehow) ‘ensure the UK has a say in future trade deals’. Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, had said earlier that the party would back an amendment to the Government’s delayed Trade Bill hatched by the Conservative Remainer Anna Soubry, to keep Britain in a customs union. The European Union then published its draft withdrawal agreement for Brexit, in which it called for Northern Ireland to continue to be bound by Brussels rules and regulations if Britain wished to leave the customs union and single market. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, lobbed a grenade into the mix after a letter by him to Mrs May was leaked; he said: ‘The issue of the Northern Irish border is being used quite a lot politically to try to keep the UK in the customs union.’ Separately, Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, said: ‘There will be in future, whatever the outcome of negotiations... no divergence in norms, rules or standards between the North and Republic of Ireland.’ Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator of the European Commission, rejected any extension of Britain’s transitional period beyond 2020 and summoned Brexit Secretary David Davis to Brussels for talks. Aberdeenshire Council objected to a scheme by the Balmoral estate to build a hydroelectric system as it would be too noisy for nearby red squirrels.

Comcast, an American cable television company that owns NBC and Universal Pictures, made a higher bid to buy Sky than Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. Vanquis, part of Provident Financial, the doorstep lender, was ordered by the Financial Conduct Authority to pay £168 million compensation to customers who used its debt. Many parts of the country saw heavy snow, but even where little fell hundreds of trains were cancelled just in case; Scotland had a devolved snowstorm of its own.

Athletes from the UK, called Team GB, came back from the Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang with one gold medal and four bronzes. Ryanair reduced its routes out of Glasgow from 23 to three, but increased routes out of Edinburgh by 11. An inquest in Newport heard that a five-year-old girl died of asthma after a GP turned her away because she was more than ten minutes late for an emergency appointment. A shop in Leicester with a flat above it exploded, killing five. Millions of paper £10 notes remained in circulation despite being withdrawn by the Bank of England.


The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow delivery of aid and evacuation of the sick and wounded; but the resolution did not cover action against Isis, al Qaeda or al-Nusra Front. Russia ordered its ally, the Syrian government, to pause for five hours a day in its bombardment of the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus, where 390,000 civilians are trapped, but on the first day air and artillery strikes continued and no aid could get in or evacuees out. King Salman of Saudi Arabia sacked his top military commanders.

The governing Communist Party proposed removing a clause in the Chinese constitution that limits president to two terms of five years. President Donald Trump of the United States declared he would stand again for election in 2020. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany criticised a food-bank charity, Essener Tafel, which helps feed 16,000 in Essen, for barring foreigners from receiving free food. The Danish government said it would double penalties for crimes committed in areas where more than 50 per cent of residents are non-Western immigrants.

Some 110 girls were found to have been kidnapped, it was assumed by Boko Haram, from a school at Dapchi in Nigeria’s north-eastern Yobe State; much confusion followed their disappearance on 19 February. Sherine Abdel Wahab, an Egyptian singer, on being asked to sing ‘Mashrebtesh Men Nilha’ (Have You Drunk From The Nile?), joked that ‘drinking from the Nile will get me schistosomiasis’ and was sentenced to six months in prison.         CSH