In a message for the New Year, as though it were an immemorial custom, Theresa May, the Prime Minister, said: ‘Most people just want the government to get on and deliver a good Brexit, and that’s exactly what we are doing.’ It seemed a long time since, just before Christmas, Damian Green had resigned as the First Secretary of State, in a letter beginning, ‘I regret that I’ve been asked to resign’ and going on to ‘accept that I should have been clear in my press statements that police lawyers talked to my lawyers in 2008 about the pornography on the computers [in his parliamentary office], and that the police raised it with me in a subsequent phone call in 2013. I apologise that my statements were misleading on this point.’ Four young men were stabbed to death in London in the hours around midnight on New Year’s Eve; the total for the capital in 2017 was 80. Companies House rejected dozens of names for new companies, including Sod It Systems Limited and Fanny’s Kebabs.
Hospitals cancelled non-urgent operations to cope with winter pressures. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said Britain’s £13 billion foreign aid budget would be ‘more sensibly distributed’ to support foreign policy aims such as denying safe havens to Islamist militants. Lord Adonis resigned as chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, notionally because of Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary’s ‘indefensible decision to bailout the Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise’ but also because of strong feelings about Brexit. A fire at London Zoo killed an aardvark called Misha and four meerkats, all brothers. A fire at Woburn safari park killed 13 patas monkeys.
Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and deputy prime minister, was knighted in the New Year Honours, as was Professor John Curtice, whose election exit polls proved so accurate. Other knights included Barry Gibb, the last Bee Gee, Ringo Starr, the surviving unknighted Beatle, and Michael Morpurgo, the writer. Darcey Bussell, the dancer, was made a dame. Jilly Cooper, the writer, and Rick Stein, the restaurateur, were appointed CBE. Lady Antonia Fraser and Lord Bragg, were appointed Companions of Honour. Gavin Stamp, the architectural historian and campaigner, died, aged 69. A fire destroyed about 1,400 cars in a multi-storey car park next to the Liverpool Echo Arena but four dogs were rescued unhurt from cars on the roof level.
In Iran, ten people died in a night of protests and nine the next, as demonstrations about the price of eggs, corruption and the government continued in different parts of the country. The Nigerian army said it had freed more than 700 people from captivity by Boko Haram on islands in Lake Chad. A Palestinian teenager, Ahed Tamimi, aged 17, was charged with aggravated assault after a video of her slapping an armed Israeli soldier was widely viewed. The Prime Minister of Spain said that the newly elected Catalan regional parliament should hold its first session on 17 January, after the unionist Ciudadanos gained the most seats of any party, though various pro-independence parties together won more. The Grand Mutfi of Egypt said that Bitcoin was forbidden by Islam.
President Donald Trump celebrated New Year’s Day by attacking Pakistan in a tweet: ‘The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the past 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!’ Before his Christmas holiday, the US President had succeeded in signing his tax reform bill into law. In response to Mr Trump’s plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Israel said that it wanted to name a railway station after him when the two-mile underground stretch is completed from Binyanei HaUma station in West Jerusalem to the Western Wall. California legalised recreational cannabis use and the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants at home.
Kim Jong-un, the ruler of North Korea, said in a televised New Year speech that a nuclear launch button was ‘always on my table’ and that he was offering dialogue to South Korea. A Chinese ban on trade in ivory came into force. China reduced import tax on donkey skins, which are boiled to make medicinal gelatine, from 5 per cent to 2 per cent, despite the annual trade of 1.8 million skins threatening donkey numbers in Africa. CSH