The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 7 December 2017

Also in Portrait of the Week: the deaths of Christine Keeler and Johnny Hallyday, and England lose the second Ashes Test

Portrait of the week | 7 December 2017
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Theresa May, the Prime Minister, was thrown into a political crisis, along with the negotiations for Brexit, during a protracted lunch in Brussels with Jean- Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. At first, smiles and Mr Juncker’s special cheerful tie had suggested that Britain had paid enough and said enough to be allowed at an EU summit on 14 December to enter into trade talks. But the Democratic Unionist Party, which lends the Conservatives a parliamentary majority, had got wind of a phrase in a text already agreed between Dublin and the EU proposing ‘continued regulatory alignment’ on both sides of the Irish border. Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, held a press conference in Belfast declaring that the party would accept no Brexit deal that ‘separates’ Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. Mrs May interrupted lunch, leaving the cinnamon ice cream to melt on the tarte tatin, to speak to Mrs Foster on the telephone.

Afterwards she and Mr Juncker made short, thin statements. She said: ‘On a couple of issues some differences do remain.’ Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach of Ireland, looking close to tears, said he was ‘surprised and disappointed’. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party leader, called for the whole of the United Kingdom to stay in the European single market. The London Mayor wanted a deal of his own and even Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, demanded that the UK should stay in the EU customs union.

Responding to an allegation by Neil Lewis, a retired Metropolitan Police detective, that ‘thousands’ of thumbnail images of legal pornography had been found on a computer in the parliamentary office of Damian Green in 2008, and to an earlier allegation by Bob Quick, a former Met assistant commissioner, Cressida Dick, the present Met Commissioner said: ‘All police officers know very well that they have a duty of confidentiality, a duty to protect personal information. That duty in my view clearly endures after you leave the service.’ Mr Green, the First Secretary of State, denied watching or downloading pornography on his computer. Nine terrorist attacks had been foiled in the past 12 months, Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, told the Cabinet. A man appeared in court charged with an alleged plot to blow up the gates of Downing Street and kill Theresa May. Christine Keeler, renowned for her part in the Profumo affair in the early 1960s, died aged 75. England lost the second Ashes Test by 120 runs. More than one in four NHS nurses were found to be obese.


President Donald Trump of the United States said he wanted to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ali Abdullah Saleh, aged 75, the President of Yemen for 33 years until ousted by an uprising in 2011, was shot dead by Houthis after he switched his support to the side backed by Saudi Arabia in the civil war. Saad Hariri withdrew his resignation as Prime Minister of Lebanon, which he had tendered on 4 November while in Riyadh as a guest of Saudi Arabia. An Israeli air strike was reported on an Iranian base west of Damascus. Syrian warplanes struck residential areas in Eastern Ghouta, a besieged suburb of Damascus.

United States senators passed a bill to make sweeping tax cuts, a legislative achievement for Mr Trump. The US Supreme Court allowed Mr Trump’s ban on travellers from six mainly Muslim countries to take effect. Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and agreed to co-operate with an inquiry into alleged collusion with Russia. More than 25,000 people fled their homes in the middle of the night as wildfires spread rapidly near Ventura and Santa Paula in California. Johnny Hallyday, the strange French pop star, died aged 74.

A Spanish judge withdrew European arrest warrants for Carles Puigdemont, the deposed President of the Catalan parliament, and four other ex-ministers who had also fled to Belgium, though charges of sedition remained. Pro- and anti-independence parties were neck and neck as Catalan elections on 21 December neared. Switzerland said it would return to Nigeria $320 million of the money stolen by the late ruler Sani Abacha. King Michael of Romania, who reigned from 1927 to 1930 and from 1940 to 1947, died aged 96. Sajida Begum, 65, a leper in Bangalore, lost her pension because she had no fingers to supply a print on an identity card.    CSH