The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 21 February 2019

Portrait of the week | 21 February 2019
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Seven MPs resigned from the Labour party and sat in the Commons (next to the DUP) as the Independent Group, or Tig. They were Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Chuka Umunna. The next day they were joined by Joan Ryan and the following one by three Tories, Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen. The Labour eight said they objected to anti-Semitism in the party, the security risk should Jeremy Corbyn become prime minister and Labour’s lukewarm attitude to a second referendum. Derek Hatton, who had been the deputy leader of the Militant-controlled council which set an illegal budget in Liverpool, was readmitted to the Labour party after 34 years. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, returned to Brussels for talks on Brexit with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. Lady Falkender, who as Marcia Williams acted as private and political secretary to Harold Wilson and drew up on her notepaper the ‘lavender list’ of honours at his resignation in 1976, died aged 86.

Honda said it would close its car plant in Swindon in 2021, with the loss of about 3,500 jobs. ‘This is not a Brexit-related issue for us,’ said Honda’s boss in Europe, but Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, called Brexit uncertainty facing manufacturers in the UK ‘unacceptable’. The number of people in work continued to grow, reaching a record 32.6 million in the last quarter of 2018, with unemployment at 4 per cent, its lowest since 1975. The Competition and Markets Authority criticised a planned merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, decided not to make a trade visit to China after it responded angrily to a speech by Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, in which he said that the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth would be sent to disputed waters in the Pacific over which China claims control. A group of 34 migrants was brought ashore at Dover after the Border Force intercepted a boat in the Channel.

Shamima Begum, aged 19, one of three girls from Bethnal Green who had gone to the part of Syria controlled by Islamic State in 2015, said in an interview with the Times that she wanted to return from a refugee camp in Syria to Britain to have her baby. A boy was later born in the camp. She described seeing, under Islamic State rule, a severed head in a bin, but commented that she had been ‘unfazed’ because he was an ‘enemy of Islam’. Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, wrote to the family saying she had been deprived of her British citizenship.


Pakistan said it would retaliate if India took military action against it after a bomb attack in Indian-administered Kashmir killed 40 members of the Indian security forces. Islamic State forces were reported to be preventing 200 families leaving the last little area still held by the group, on the Euphrates in Syria. A Russian ship bound for China with a cargo of S-400 anti-aircraft missiles had to return home last year after a storm in the Channel damaged them; a later consignment reached China, and other S-400s were being sold to India and Turkey, according to Russian sources. Dozens of graves at a Jewish cemetery in Alsace were daubed with swastikas.

President Donald Trump of the United States declared an emergency, to bypass Congress and raise funds for a Mexican border wall; a coalition of 16 US states led by California took him to court to stop him proceeding. The editor of the Democrat-Reporter of Linden, Alabama, was criticised for publishing a leading article beginning: ‘Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again. Democrats in the Republican party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama.’ Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington 2000-2006, who resigned from the College of Cardinals last year, was laicised after being judged guilty of sexual abuse. Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion designer who was Chanel’s artistic director from 1983, died aged 85. Izzy Young, who organised Bob Dylan’s first concert, in New York, drawing an audience of 53, died aged 90.

Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei, declared: ‘There’s no way the US can crush us.’ He said that the arrest of his daughter Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, in Vancouver at America’s request, was politically motivated. In a row over ownership of maritime oil reserves, Somali traders stopped importing khat from Kenyan farmers, who sell them around 50 tons of the narcotic a day, 90 per cent of their produce.            CSH