The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 26 January 2017

Portrait of the week | 26 January 2017
Text settings


The Supreme Court ruled by eight to three that, without an act of Parliament, the government could not effectually invoke Article 50 to start Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. It argued: ‘If, as we consider, what would otherwise be a prerogative act would result in a change in domestic law, the act can only lawfully be carried out with the sanction of primary legislation enacted by the Queen in Parliament.’ The court said that devolved assemblies did not have to assent to the move. In general, it said, ‘The effect of any particular referendum must depend on the terms of the statute which authorises it.’ The government announced a bill to invoke the article. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, said: ‘If necessary, there will be hand-to-hand combat on this.’ Londoners were warned that ‘very high’ levels of air pollution had been reached in a spell of still, sunny days.

Theresa May, the Prime Minister, flew off to meet President Donald Trump, going home via Turkey. She had earlier refused to say during a television interview whether she had been told, before a Commons vote on the renewal of Trident, about a test off Florida in which, according to the Sunday Times, a missile with no nuclear warhead went off course. Lord Hennessy, the historian, said in the House of Lords that he had witnessed the test. The government said it was considering making sex education compulsory in schools. A member of the House of Keys was granted leave to introduce a bill legalising abortion in the Isle of Man. The Food Standards Agency warned of a risk of cancer from eating toast, crisps or roast potatoes.

Michelle O’Neill, aged 40, succeeded Martin McGuinness as the leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. Robert Hannigan, the director of GCHQ since 2014, is to stand down for family reasons. BT shares fell by 21 per cent after it was found that a scandal in the company’s Italian operations would set it back £530 million. Bernie Ecclestone, aged 86, said he had been forced out of his position running Formula 1 by Liberty Media, which paid £6.4 billion for the operation. Erwin and Krystian Markowski, from Nottingham, were jailed for six years for trafficking 18 people from Poland, sending them to work at Sports Direct and keeping most of their wages.


President Donald Trump, by executive order, withdrew America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that had been signed by 12 countries but never ratified by the US Congress. Mr Trump also banned by executive order grants of federal money to groups abroad that perform or promote abortions, and he then got to work on plans to restrict immigration from Mexico and from Muslim countries in the Middle East. President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico is to hold talks with him next week. People in St Louis, Missouri, were unable to borrow books when a malware attack was launched against 17 public libraries with demands for ransoms, which the authorities said were not paid.

Peace talks between the Syrian government and leaders of rebel groups opened in Astana, Kazakhstan, with the involvement of Russia, Iran and Turkey, which said they would jointly enforce a ceasefire. Forces fighting to regain Mosul from the Islamic State retook the half of the city east of the Tigris. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, whose party is in for a challenge in March elections from the Freedom party of Geert Wilders, took out full-page newspaper advertisements to say to immigrants: ‘Behave normally or go away.’ Sixteen people died when a bus full of schoolchildren from Hungary crashed and caught fire near Verona; a teacher, Gyorgy Vigh, saved many pupils but lost a son and daughter. Nine people were rescued from a hotel in Abruzzo, Italy, engulfed by an avalanche after an earthquake; rescuers also found three sheepdog puppies alive after five days.

Yahya Jammeh, the former President of Gambia defeated in elections in December, flew into exile in Equatorial Guinea after soldiers from several West African nations, including Senegal, had entered the Gambia. Israel announced the building of 2,500 more homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. A relaxation of the one-child policy in China saw 17.9 million births last year, a rise of 1.3 million. South African police seized 5,000 donkey hides thought to be from illegally slaughtered animals, and bound for China for use in traditional medicine. India said it plans to check the height of Mount Everest to see if it had shrunk in the Nepal earthquake of 2015.            CSH