The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 3 January 2019

Portrait of the week | 3 January 2019
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The number of would-be migrants known to have reached England in small boats from France in the last two months of 2018 reached 239, with 40 making the crossing on Christmas Day. Most said they were Iranian. Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, transferred two Border Force cutters to help the one patrolling the Channel. The government awarded a £13.8 million contract to Seaborne Freight to run goods ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend in the event of Britain leaving the European Union without an agreement; a £46 million contract went to Brittany Ferries and one worth £42 million to the Danish shipping firm DFDS. Without the slightest encouragement, leaders of political parties issued New Year messages. ‘If Parliament backs a deal, Britain can turn a corner,’ Theresa May, the Prime Minister said. Dame June Whitfield, the comedy actor, died aged 93. Sister Wendy Beckett, the eremitic nun who made television programmes about art, died aged 88.

Gatwick offered a £50,000 reward for a solution to the drones that had closed the airport before Christmas, affecting 140,000 travellers. A local couple arrested and held for 36 hours said they felt ‘completely violated’. The FTSE 100 index ended 2018 12 per cent down. HMV went into administration for the second time in six years; its shops remained open while KPMG sought buyers. A cap came into force on the unit price of energy and the supplier’s standing charge. New fishing quotas were introduced, with the unintended consequence of capping expeditions if the wrong sort of fish were caught. Jeremy Corbyn bought a pair of half-rim spectacles.

Twiggy became a Dame in the New Year’s honours list, and Michael Palin was knighted, as was Alastair Cook, England cricket captain from 2012 to 2016. John Redwood was among the few politicians to be knighted. A year that had seen 134 murders in London, 70 involving knives, ended with the arrest of 39 people at a party in Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, by police investigating an attempted murder. The New Year began with two more people being stabbed to death in London. A man was detained under the Mental Health Act after the stabbing of three people, including a policeman, at Victoria Station, Manchester. Jimmy Osmond, 55, had a stroke while playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan at the Birmingham Hippodrome.


The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus after a seven-year absence; Bahrain followed suit. Syrian government forces took up position near the city of Manbij in response to Kurdish requests for help in resisting Turkish forces, following the announcement by President Donald Trump of the United States of the withdrawal of American troops from Syria because, he contended, Islamic State had been defeated. Democrat control of the House of Representatives came into effect, leaving unresolved a partial government shutdown brought about by Mr Trump’s insistence on seeking funds for a wall between the US and Mexico. American investment markets saw their worst year since 2008. The UN’s World Food Programme told Houthi rebels in Yemen to stop stealing food sent for starving people. Police in Egypt killed about 40 men in Giza and North Sinai after a bomb attack on a tourist bus killed three Vietnamese visitors. Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist, died aged 79.

The internet was shut down in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo a day after delayed presidential elections. Sheikh Hasina won her third term as prime minister of Bangladesh in a landslide that left the opposition with only seven seats but complaining of violence, intimidation and vote rigging. China’s former intelligence chief Ma Jian, convicted of taking bribes, was sentenced to life in prison. Russia’s FSB state security agency arrested a man in Moscow named as Paul Whelan — he is said to have been charged with espionage. In Magnitogorsk, a block of 48 flats collapsed in an explosion, with at least 40 feared dead. Airlines managed to kill 556 people in accidents in 2018, compared with 44 in 2017.

A Nasa space probe called New Horizons took photographs as it passed a minor planet called Ultima Thule four billion miles from the Sun. At least 426 people  were killed and 40,000 made homeless in Sumatra and Java by a tsunami following volcanic activity by Anak Krakatoa. In Sicily, Mount Etna erupted. Venice is to charge a tax of up to ten euros on cruise ship visitors.               CSH