The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 6 July 2017

Also in Portrait: the growing cost of Hinkley Point, North Korea’s missile test, Barack Obama’s new tartan

Portrait of the week | 6 July 2017
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Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, urged colleagues to make the case for ‘sound money’; he said, ‘We must hold our nerve,’ as he came under pressure to end the public-sector pay cap of a 1 per cent rise a year. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, thought that pay rises could be awarded in ‘a responsible way’; Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, did not think that taxes would need to increase to accommodate pay rises. Firemen boasted of a 2 per cent pay rise. The government won the vote on the Queen’s Speech by 323 to 309 after heading off an amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy, by suddenly announcing that women in Northern Ireland (where abortion is illegal) would be able to have free abortions on the NHS in England. Talks with the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein failed to restore a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. A tartan was registered in Barack Obama’s name in Edinburgh.

The retired judge appointed to head an inquiry into the fire last month at Grenfell Tower, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a 70-year-old white man, was criticised by Emma Dent Coad, the newly elected Labour MP for Kensington, who said: ‘We need somebody who can actually understand human beings and what they have been through.’ Nicholas Paget-Brown resigned as leader of Kensington and Chelsea council and was replaced by another Conservative councillor, Elizabeth Campbell. Police thought that the total of those who died in the fire would not be known before the end of the year. Three hospitals in England failed fire safety checks on cladding round their buildings. Jeremy Corbyn made 20 appointments to his shadow front bench.

A delegation from the City of London took to Brussels proposals for a free-trade deal on financial services after Brexit. The cost to the French energy company EDF of building the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset rose by £1.5 billion to £20 billion, with another 15 months’ delay in its completion. Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary, said that she was ‘minded to’ refer to the Competition and Markets Authority the proposed takeover of Sky by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that the Royal Free Hospital did not do enough to protect the privacy of 1.6 million patients whose data it shared with a subsidiary of Google. Cancer patients should be routinely offered DNA tests, Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, said; patients could be assured that their genetic data would be stored securely and ‘de-identified’ when  shared.


North Korea tested a missile which went 580 miles. Russia and China urged the country to freeze its missile and nuclear programmes. America spoke of war. Xi Jinping, the ruler of China, visited Hong Kong, where demonstrators in favour of democracy and the rule of law were kept out of his sight. American-backed Syrian forces breached the walls of Raqqa’s Old City as they tried to oust the Islamic State from its headquarters. Saudi Arabia and its allies said that Qatar, on pain of further sanctions, should meet its demands, including the closure of the Al Jazeera television network, removal of a Turkish military base and reduction of links with Iran. Iran signed a $4.8 billion deal with the French energy giant Total.

In a 90-minute speech at Versailles to both chambers of parliament, President Emmanuel Macron of France said he wanted to reduce the number of MPs from 577 to 385 and of senators from 348 to 232. Jean-Claude Juncker, the chief official of the European Commission, rebuked the few members of the European Parliament attending a session in Strasbourg for not being more numerous: ‘You are ridiculous,’ he said. Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor who as minister of health persuaded France to legalise abortion, died aged 89.

Italy rescued 12,600 migrants from the Mediterranean last weekend, bringing to 83,650 the number who have reached Italy this year. Austria said it was sending troops to the border with Italy to stop any influx of migrants. Police in the state of Victoria, Australia, said that Cardinal George Pell was being charged with sexual assaults against several people; he said he would return to Australia to defend himself, declaring: ‘I’m innocent of those charges. They are false.’ The RAF stopped its weekly flights from Ascension Island, leaving the 800 islanders with only one ship every three weeks making an eight-day voyage to Cape Town.             CSH