The Spectator

Portrait of the week: Sue Gray speaks, Boris goes to Ukraine and 477-mile bolt of lightning strikes

Portrait of the week: Sue Gray speaks, Boris goes to Ukraine and 477-mile bolt of lightning strikes
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Sue Gray, the second permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office, in a 12-page ‘update’ on her investigation into 16 gatherings in Downing Street, refrained from comment on particular cases, 12 of which were being looked into by police. ‘Some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify,’ she concluded. ‘There was a serious failure to observe… the standards expected of the entire British population.’ Some events ‘should not have been allowed to take place’. She said that ‘excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace’. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, told the Commons that he ‘wanted to say sorry’. ‘I get it and I will fix it,’ he said, promising a new Office of the Prime Minister. He did not promise parliament the publication in full of a further report by Sue Gray. Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition, emphasised that the Prime Minister was being investigated by police. Ian Blackford, the Commons leader of the Scottish National party, had to leave the chamber after refusing to withdraw claims that the Prime Minister had lied. Mr Johnson, asked if there was a culture of drug-taking in Downing Street, replied: ‘Direct that question to the Labour front bench.’ Barry Cryer, the comedian, died aged 86.

The government withdrew its threat to sack NHS staff who refused to be vaccinated. Re-infections were found to make up one in ten cases in the current wave of Omicron. In the seven days up to the beginning of this week, 1,926 people had died with coronavirus, bringing total deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 155,613. (In the previous week, deaths had numbered 1,888.) Numbers with Covid remaining in hospital fell in a week from about 18,000 to 16,000. January saw 1,347 migrants cross the Channel in small craft, compared with 223 last month.

Boris Johnson flew to Ukraine to stand next to President Volodymyr Zelensky at a press conference after offering £88 million of British aid as Russian forces massed on the border. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, who had contracted Covid, was absent. Michael Gove unveiled the levelling-up white paper embodying 12 ‘national missions’. Dele Alli, aged 25, left Tottenham for Everton in a transfer that could cost £40 million. Mason Greenwood, aged 20, the Manchester United footballer, was arrested on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and making threats to kill.

Abroad

Denmark lifted all Covid-19 restrictions, including the wearing of face masks, the first European Union country to do so. The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 5,676,026 by the beginning of the week. Lorries blocked Highway 4 at the border between the United States and Canada in protest against Canadian restrictions on unvaccinated cross-border truckers and other state interventions. The United States was expected this month to approve Pfizer coronavirus vaccines for children under five. Josh Wardle, a software engineer, sold the online game Wordle to the New York Times for more than $1 million.

Fighting was reported to have increased in Burma between the military government and armed civilians, 12,000 of whom were estimated to have died since the coup a year ago. A coup was attempted in Guinea-Bissau a week after a coup in Burkina Faso saw Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba oust President Roch Kaboré, whom he blamed for failing to counter Islamist violence. Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian mining company, said that 21 of its women employees had reported rape, attempted rape or sexual assault at work in the past five years. Uganda signed a $10 billion agreement with Chinese and French oil companies to build a 900-mile oil pipeline from Lake Albert to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean.

A report by Amnesty International repeatedly asserted that Israeli laws, policies and practices against Palestinians amounted to apartheid. Whoopi Goldberg was taken off air for a fortnight after saying on television that the Holocaust ‘was not about race’ as it concerned ‘two groups of white people’. A report to the UN Security Council said that 1,406 children recruited by Houthi rebels in Yemen had died on the battlefield in 2020. In Ecuador, at least 22 died when mud washed by heavy rain from the Pichincha volcano swept through Quito. A bolt of lightning across Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas was found to be the longest recorded at 477 miles. CSH