The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 16 March 2017

Portrait of the week | 16 March 2017
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Theresa May, the Prime Minister, decided to delay until later in the month the invoking of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to trigger the Brexit process, even though her power to do so had been confirmed by the passing of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act. The Commons had defeated two amendments added by the House of Lords: one concerning continuing rights of EU residents in Britain by 335 votes to 287; the other about Parliament having a meaningful vote on any Brexit deal by 331 to 286. The Lords quiesced once the Bill was sent back for their consideration. A great deal of attention was grabbed by Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, calling the press to the drawing-room of Bute House in Edinburgh and announcing that she wanted another referendum on independence between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019. Briefings on behalf of Mrs May insisted that no such referendum could be held until well after Britain had left the EU. Scottish National party intentions towards future EU membership remained unclear. The Forestry Commission appealed to dog-owners not to leave plastic bags of turds hanging on trees, but to flick the contents with sticks into the undergrowth.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, dropped a rise in National Insurance for the self-employed announced in the Budget only a week earlier, which had drawn criticism, much of it from their own side, for breaking a Conservative manifesto undertaking. Theresa May had said she would delay legislation to implement the changes until the autumn. After a 13-year absence, gin returned to the basket of goods used by the Office for National Statistics to calculate inflation; menthol cigarettes and the fee for stopping cheques were removed.

Unemployment fell by 31,000 to 1.58 million — at 4.7 per cent, the lowest rate since 1975. Charlotte Hogg resigned as the new deputy governor of the Bank of England after failing to disclose that her brother worked at Barclays. Jack Monroe, a food writer, won £24,000 damages with costs, in a libel action against Katie Hopkins, a writer for Mail Online, for defamation on Twitter. Muirfield golf club, founded in 1744, voted to admit women members by 498 votes to 123.

Abroad

Holland barred two Turkish ministers from entering the country to attend rallies meant to encourage the 400,000 Turks there to vote Yes in a referendum on 16 April on expanding the powers of the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr Erdogan accused the Dutch of ‘Nazi’ tactics, barred the Dutch ambassador from returning to Ankara and then accused the Dutch of moral responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995. Holland prepared for a general election this week in which Geert Wilders, the leader of the Freedom party, called for the closing of all mosques. The European Court of Justice ruled that Muslim headscarves might legally be banned by an employer who wanted to ‘project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers’ and would therefore ban other religious insignia such as crucifixes, skullcaps and turbans. In Malaysia the national film censorship board approved the screening of Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast, with ‘a minor edit concerning a gay moment in the film’.

Part of a tax return for President Donald Trump from 2005 was leaked, showing that he paid $38 million tax on an income of more than $150 million. In France, François Fillon, the centre-right candidate for the presidency, was placed under formal investigation over alleged use of public funds to pay his wife for work she did not do, which he denied. An outbreak of measles in Romania has killed 17 unvaccinated children since last September. Spanish police displayed a haul of more than 10,000 assault rifles, machine guns, revolvers and 400 shells and grenades seized in Madrid, Bilbao, Valencia and Gerona.

As Iraqi forces attacked Islamic State areas of western Mosul, the number of civilians who have fled in the past fortnight rose to 65,000, while up to 600,000 remained. Hundreds died of hunger in Somalia, where three million face famine; more than 20 million more were afflicted with famine in northern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. Warfare was the common factor in worsening the effects of drought in the affected regions. An oil tanker bound for Mogadishu was seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia, the first such incident in those parts for five years. A landslide at a rubbish dump in Addis Ababa killed at least 72 people.                                                      CSH