The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 17 August 2017

Also: Big Ben to fall silent; unemployment lowest since 1975

Portrait of the week | 17 August 2017
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Regulated rail fares will rise by 3.6 per cent in January, bringing the price of annual tickets from Oxford, Colchester or Hastings to more than £5,000. The rise depended on the annual rate of inflation in July as measured by the Retail Prices Index, which had risen to 3.6 per cent; as measured by the Consumer Prices Index it remained unchanged at 2.6 per cent. A passenger train was derailed near Waterloo station but none of the 23 on board was injured. A train from Royston hit the buffers at King’s Cross. Richard Gordon, the author of Doctor in the House, died aged 95. The landlord of the Mallard in Scunthorpe became the third person at the pub to win £1 million in the National Lottery.

There could be a ‘temporary customs union’ after Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019, according to a joint paper by the Treasury and the Department for Exiting the EU. The paper envisaged a ‘highly streamlined’ border with the EU or no customs border at all. In response, Guy Verhofstadt, the chief Brexit representative for the European Parliament, tweeted disobligingly: ‘To be in and out of the Customs Union and “invisible borders” is a fantasy. We first need to secure citizens rights and a financial settlement.’ Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, had already put on a united front in a joint article for the Sunday Telegraph, saying that ‘a time-limited interim period’ could not be ‘indefinite; it cannot be a back door to staying in the EU’. In another position paper, Britain opposed the erection of customs posts on its border with Ireland. An 8ft diameter pipe 524 yards long was washed up on the beach at Winterton, Norfolk, having broken loose as it was being towed to Algeria.

Unemployment fell to 4.4 per cent, its lowest since 1975. The inquiry led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick into the fire at Grenfell Tower in London in June will examine the adequacy of regulations, the tower’s refurbishment, and the response of authorities after the fire, but wider social housing policy would not be included in its terms of reference. Hundreds of patients in 20 NHS Trusts were found to be infected with the drug-resistant fungus Candida auris, first found in Japan in 2009. The charity behind plans for a garden bridge in central London closed after £46 million of public money had been spent on the project. BT accelerated plans to cull 20,000 of its 40,000 phone boxes, which include 7,000 traditional red kiosks. Big Ben was due to be silenced until 2021 to protect the hearing of workers restoring the Elizabeth Tower.


A woman was killed when a car ploughed into counter-demonstrators against a rally of white supremacists who were protesting against the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate hero, in Charlottesville, Virginia. President Donald Trump said he condemned ‘this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides’ and persevered in blaming both sides. A small crowd pulled down another Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina. Mr Trump spoke of ‘a possible military option’ in Venezuela, in response to which President Nicolas Maduro ordered ‘the Bolivarian National Armed Forces to start the preparations for a civic-military exercise’.

Sierra Leone asked for help after floods and mudslides killed hundreds and left thousands homeless. A landslide in Himachal Pradesh state in northern India swept two crowded buses into a gorge, killing at least 45 people. Three women set off bombs killing 27 people and themselves outside a refugee camp near Maiduguri in Borno state, Nigeria. A tree fell on to a crowd of people celebrating the feast of the Assumption in Largo da Fonte at Monte in Madeira, killing 13.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said it could restart its nuclear programme ‘within hours’ if America imposed new sanctions. Iran froze the assets of people working for the BBC in the country. China added iron and seafood to its ban of coal imports from North Korea. Latvian police arrested 110 Chinese people said to have been involved in stealing £2 million through telephone and internet fraud. Philippines police killed 32 people in a single day of drug raids. Indian police arrested four people suspected of leaking an episode of the television serial Game of Thrones. Australia’s deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was found to be a dual citizen of New Zealand, which might debar him from public office.         CSH