The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 25 February 2016

Portrait of the week | 25 February 2016
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David Cameron, having continued talks through the night in Brussels, announced that he had achieved a ‘special status’ for Britain in the European Union and would call a referendum on it for 23 June. One concession he had wrung was that, for seven years, Britain could decide to limit in-work benefits for EU migrants during their first four years in Britain. ‘I do not love Brussels; I love Britain,’ he said. The cabinet met next morning, and six members left by a back door to promote their support for the campaign to leave. The biggest beast among them was Michael Gove, and the others were Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale and Priti Patel.

Boris Johnson’s face was on the front page of the main papers when he joined the ‘leave’ campaign. He suggested that a vote to leave might bring about reforms allowing Britain to stay: ‘There is only one way to get the change we need — and that is to vote to go; because all EU history shows that they only really listen to a population when it says no,’ he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. Mr Cameron kept saying that to leave the EU would be a ‘leap in the dark’. In a swat at Boris Johnson, sitting on a bench behind him, Mr Cameron told the Commons that he had ‘no other agenda than what is best for our country’. The number of Conservative MPs supporting an exit soon reached 130. The heads of 36 companies in the FTSE 100 signed a letter, organised by Stronger in Europe and Downing Street, backing the campaign to stay in the EU, but two thirds of FTSE 100 company heads did not sign. The pound fell at one point to below $1.40, its lowest level since March 2009. The Queen descended 92ft into the Crossrail workings to name the future railway the Elizabeth Line.

The London Stock Exchange held merger talks with Germany’s Deutsche Boerse. Only about seven exploration wells are expected to be drilled in the North Sea this year, the lowest number since the 1970s, according to Oil and Gas UK. Only two thirds of people following apprenticeships were found to complete them. Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP who is standing to be mayor of London, published tax returns that showed he received £5.7 million from his trust fund and had paid £4.5 million in tax over five years. Junior doctors announced three more strikes, the first on 9 March. Pauline Cafferkey, the nurse who survived Ebola last year, was admitted to hospital for a third time. Four people were killed when part of the inactive Didcot coal-fired power station in Oxfordshire collapsed.


In Syria, a cessation of hostilities agreed by the United States and Russia was due to come into effect on 27 February. About 110,000 migrants crossed the sea into Europe in the first eight weeks of the year — more than for the first six months of last year — according to the International Organisation for Migration. The French government issued an order evicting hundreds of migrants from the southern half of the camp at Calais called the Jungle. Belgium imposed controls on its border with France, fearing an influx of migrants. Some onlookers cheered when a fire broke out in a building planned to house migrants at Bautzen in eastern Germany. In Germany, Mars bars and Snickers were recalled, as were various Mars chocolate goods in 54 other countries, after bits of plastic were found in a Snickers bar.

Fighters affiliated to al-Qaeda joined Saudi-led coalition forces in a battle against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Two Serbs held hostage in Libya were killed in an airstrike by American planes on positions held by the Islamic State in the city of Sabratha. Islamist militias lost control of two areas of the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. President Barack Obama of the United States presented to Congress a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which he promised in 2009 to close. A driver with the taxi company Uber was charged with six murders after going on a random shooting spree at Kalamazoo, Michigan. Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, died aged 89. Umberto Eco, the author of The Name of the Rose, died, aged 84.

Damage to the Munak canal by members of the Jat community, protesting against caste job quotas, left 10 million people in Delhi without water supplies. In Fiji, a cyclone killed at least 29 people. The Chinese government issued a directive prohibiting ‘bizarre architecture’. CSH