The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 30 March 2017

Also in Portrait of the Week: Terror attack on Westminster kills four; Donald Trump revokes Obama’s climate change measures

Portrait of the week | 30 March 2017
Text settings


Theresa May, the Prime Minister, wrote a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, with formal notification of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. If no agreement is made sooner, Britain would cease to be a member in two years. The other 27 member states had celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Asked by the BBC if Mrs May would be the ‘elephant in the room’ at the shindig, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said: ‘She’s not an elephant.’ Douglas Carswell, the MP for Clacton, announced that he was leaving the UK Independence Party, in whose interest he had been re-elected at a by-election in 2014, but would be sitting as an independent and not applying for membership of the Conservative party.

Three people were killed and 50 injured by a car deliberately driven at them on the pavement of Westminster Bridge. The driver crashed it into the railings of Parliament in Bridge Street, then ran round to the open Carriage Gates in Parliament Square and stabbed to death PC Keith Palmer. Tobias Ellwood, a junior Foreign Office minister, tried to resuscitate the stricken policeman, in recognition of which he was appointed to the Privy Council. The murderer was shot dead by a policeman protecting Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary. The whole attack took 82 seconds. Lest another attacker had got into the Houses of Parliament, the Commons was suspended and MPs were kept in the chamber, their offices and later Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey while police checked hundreds of staff and visitors. The attacker turned out to be Khalid Masood, aged 52, born in Erith, Kent, as Adrian Russell Elms, but known as Adrian Ajao after his stepfather. He had twice been imprisoned, for two years and then six months, for slashing and stabbing people. He had converted to Islam, changed his name, and lived for two spells in Saudi Arabia. He was known to MI5 and considered a peripheral figure. ‘An act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy,’ Mrs May told the Commons. Police investigating the attack arrested 12 people and nine were released. The murderer had used the messaging system WhatsApp shortly before the crime, and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said she wanted ‘our intelligence services’ to have access to such encrypted messages. After the attack police patrolled near public buildings and Londoners carried on as usual, some thinking themselves brave, others counting themselves lucky.

Members of the Scottish Parliament voted by 69 to 59 to seek permission for a referendum on independence before the UK leaves the European Union. Sinn Fein refused to nominate its leader in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Michelle O’Neill, as deputy first minister, and no executive could be formed. James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said that after Easter the government would consider all options, including direct rule. A suspected gas explosion destroyed an unoccupied dance studio for children and left 33 people injured at Bebington in the Wirral.


President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending half a dozen measures aimed by his predecessor at curbing climate change. A bill to reform Obamacare was abandoned after it won insufficient support from Republicans in Congress. A personalised number plate showing the surname alone of Lorne Grabher of Nova Scotia was withdrawn because it could be ‘misinterpreted as a socially unacceptable slogan’.

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader, was among about 500 arrested at anti-corruption protests. Hosni Mubarak, aged 88, the ex-president of Egypt, was released from prison. Some 40 policemen were found beheaded by followers of Kamwina Nsapu, mostly child soldiers, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A man missing on the island of Sulawesi was found dead inside a reticulated python.

US-led coalition air strikes were blamed for the death of dozens of civilians in west Mosul around 17 March, but Iraqi authorities attributed the deaths to Islamic State booby traps. US-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces retook Tabqa airbase, 30 miles from Raqqa, from the Islamic State. More than 200 migrants were feared to have drowned when two craft capsized off Libya; more than 20,000 migrants had arrived in Italy since the beginning of the year. A Canadian gold coin with a face value of $1 million, but worth $4 million because of its 100kg weight, was stolen by night from the Bode Museum in Berlin.      CSH