The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 9 August 2018

Portrait of the week | 9 August 2018
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Brandon Lewis, the chairman of the Conservative party, demanded that Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, should apologise for saying, in an article defending the right of women in Britain to wear the burka or the niqab, that it was at the same time ‘absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes’. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, said: ‘The language that Boris used has offended people.’ Jennie Formby, the general secretary of the Labour party, wrote to Dame Margaret Hodge saying that no further action would be taken against her. Dame Margaret was said to have called Jeremy Corbyn, the party leader, an ‘anti-Semite’. Dame Margaret denied that she had expressed regret, and her lawyers said she would ‘not apologise for her conduct and words, as she did nothing wrong’. The words ‘Posh scum’ were sprayed on windows at the Somerset home of Jacob Rees-Mogg MP while he was on a family holiday in New York. Ian Paisley, the MP for North Antrim, faced a formal petition of recall that would unseat him if 10 per cent of constituents signed it.

Police were said to have identified two people from video images as suspects in the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March; the question remained of whether Russia should be asked to extradite them, in the light of its refusal to send to Britain for trial the two men suspected of murdering Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The BBC interviewed El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, two Londoners held in northern Syria accused of being members of Isil and murdering and torturing westerners; ‘What makes the British government want a British citizen to be tried in America?’ asked Elsheikh, who denied that the revocation of their British citizenship had been confirmed. The shorter of the Chuckle Brothers, Barry, died aged 73.

Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, declared on Radio 4’s Today that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit was ‘uncomfortably high’ and ‘highly undesirable’. Network Rail continued its campaign to close its 6,000 level crossings by releasing pictures of children playing on one at Wing, Rutland; in the past year three adults were killed on level crossings. In 2017, 432 deaths in England and Wales were related to cocaine, the highest ever, the Office for National Statistics announced, and the number of deaths from the opioid Fentanyl rose from 58 to 75. A boa constrictor was found wrapped round a pigeon in Leytonstone High Road.


The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran. This followed America’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an international agreement supposed to govern Iran’s nuclear development. President Donald Trump tweeted: ‘Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States.’ The European Union deployed a ‘blocking statute’ intended to nullify US legal action against European companies dealing with Iran. Britain supported the EU action, but few thought it could protect companies from American hostility. A speech by President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela at a military rally was interrupted by two drones dropping explosives. Many soldiers ran away. Mr Maduro blamed President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia. In Zimbabwe, the opposition MDC insisted that the elections which eventually saw Emmerson Mnangagwa declared president were rigged; six people were killed when the army intervened during protests in Harare.

An earthquake killed at least 98 on the Indonesian island of Lombok, and left 20,000 homeless, a week after an earthquake in the same place killed 16. California’s biggest ever wildfire, the Mendocino Complex fire, was expected to burn for the rest of August, after covering 290,692 acres, three quarters the size of Greater London. The population of Australia passed 25 million, an increase of 388,000 in the past year, 62 per cent of it from immigration. China refused release to the new Disney film Christopher Robin; Xi Jinping, the ruler of China, has been compared to Winnie-the-Pooh by elements on social media.

Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador after Canada expressed concern at the arrest of women’s rights campaigners. Two armed men in a Hamas border post in Gaza were killed by fire from an Israeli tank. A court in Freiburg jailed a woman for 12 years for selling her nine-year-old son to paedophiles on the dark net; the authorities knew that the boy’s stepfather, also sentenced to 12 years, was a convicted paedophile. A woman in the South Korean city of Gumi who slept in a coffin for luck died of suffocation.     CSH