The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 23 March 2017

Also in Portrait of the Week: death of Martin McGuinness; FBI investigates Donald Trump’s Russian connections

Portrait of the week | 23 March 2017
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Theresa May, the Prime Minister, said that on 29 March she would send a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, triggering the process of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. A summit of EU leaders was convened for 29 April, with the aim of briefing its negotiator, Michel Barnier. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, elicited the support of the Scottish Parliament for her policy of seeking a second referendum on Scottish independence ‘within a short time of’ Brexit. Mrs May had dismissed her request, saying: ‘Now is not the time.’ Ms Sturgeon said an independent Scotland would seek membership of the EU and use sterling as a ‘starting point’. The BBC had been ‘pessimistic and skewed’ in its coverage of Brexit, 72 MPs said in a letter to its director general. A 32-year-old man died while charging his mobile phone in the bath.

Martin McGuinness, for many years an active IRA commander, guilty of bombings and shootings, who became deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, working with the Unionist first minister Ian Paisley, died aged 66. Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, said that the left-wing Momentum group was trying to gain funding from the trade union Unite in order to take control of the party. George Osborne, the former chancellor of the exchequer, was appointed editor of the Evening Standard; some people criticised his intention of continuing to sit as an MP and spend four days a month at BlackRock, the asset manager, for an annual payment of £650,000. The first of 800 British troops being sent to reinforce Nato defences in the Baltic arrived in Estonia. Skin creams containing paraffin were blamed for dozens of deaths of people who accidentally set themselves on fire.

The annual rate of inflation measured by the Consumer Prices Index rose to 2.3 per cent in February from 1.8 per cent in January. Marks & Spencer joined McDonald’s, L’Oreal and several banks in withdrawing advertising from Google, owner of YouTube, where advertisements had been allowed to appear next to extremist videos. Waitrose asked customers to buy something before claiming a free cup of coffee. The derailment of a goods train closed the line to Castle Cary in Somerset for days. Colin Dexter, the author of the Inspector Morse books, died aged 86.


James Comey, the director of the FBI, said that it was investigating alleged Russian interference in the US elections in 2016 and any links between Russia and ‘individuals associated with the Trump campaign’. With respect to ‘the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration’, Mr Comey said: ‘I have no information that supports those tweets.’ Admiral Mike Rogers, the chief of the National Security Agency, giving evidence to a congressional committee, denied he had asked Britain’s GCHQ to spy on Donald Trump, as ‘that would be expressly against the construct of the Five Eyes agreement that has been in place for decades’. The United States banned electronic devices larger than mobile phones from cabin baggage on passenger flights from Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UEA. Britain followed suit for flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

President Xi Jinping of China shook hands with Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. President Donald Trump refused to shake hands for the cameras when he welcomed Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, to the Oval Office, even when she said: ‘Do you want to have a handshake?’ Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, set about forming a coalition when his party remained the single largest, with 33 seats out of 150, after a general election that saw the far-right party of Geert Wilders increase its seats from 15 to 20; the Party for the Animals won five seats.

In Iraq, more than 180,000 civilians fled west Mosul as government forces attacked Islamic State positions. Syrian government forces fought rebels and jihadists in east Damascus. More people starved to death in Somalia. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said he would review relations with the EU, which he called ‘fascist and cruel’. Cinemas in Kuwait were prohibited from screening the Disney live-action film Beauty and the Beast because one of the characters was depicted as gay.         CSH