The Spectator

Portrait of the week: Unease in Ukraine, tensions in No. 10 and hamsters escape Hong Kong

Portrait of the week: Unease in Ukraine, tensions in No. 10 and hamsters escape Hong Kong
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Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, told the Commons that Britain was prepared to send troops to protect Nato allies in Europe if Russia invaded Ukraine. The Foreign Office named Yevhen Murayev, a former Ukrainian MP, as a candidate that President Vladimir Putin of Russia was plotting to install in Ukraine. About half the staff at the British embassy in Kiev would come home. The Queen took a helicopter from Windsor Castle to Sandringham, where she is expected to stay for the 70th anniversary of her accession on 6 February.

The Metropolitan Police began an investigation, led by deputy assistant commissioner Jane Connors, into ‘a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations’. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House, said that there should be a general election if Johnson was ousted as Prime Minister. William Wragg, aged 34, a vice-chair of the 1922 Committee, told a Metropolitan Police detective that Tory MPs who sought a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister had received threats from whips to ‘withdraw investments’ from their constituencies. Nusrat Ghani, aged 49, a vice-chair of the 1922 Committee, said that when she was sacked as a minister in 2020 she was told by a whip that ‘Muslimness was raised as an issue’ before the reshuffle. The chief whip, Mark Spencer, said he was the whip referred to, but the accusations were ‘completely false and defamatory’. Five days after quoting the words of Leo Amery and Oliver Cromwell, ‘In the name of God, go’, David Davis said that he had not written to the chairman of the 1922 Committee calling for a vote of confidence on Johnson’s leadership. Lord Agnew resigned as a Treasury minister over the government’s ‘schoolboy errors’ in giving Covid loans to more than 1,000 companies that were not trading.

Coronavirus restrictions under Plan B were lifted, meaning the end of legal obligations to wear face coverings anywhere or to show passes at communal events. Government advice to work from home was withdrawn. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said: ‘Face coverings will remain a condition of carriage on Transport for London services.’ From 11 February, fully vaccinated people arriving in England or Scotland from abroad would not have to take Covid tests. In the seven days to the beginning of this week, 1,888 people had died with coronavirus, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 153,787. (In the previous week, deaths had numbered 1,842.) Numbers with Covid remaining in hospital fell in a week from about 19,200 to about 18,000.

Abroad

America warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could come ‘at any time’. President Joe Biden held a video call on Ukraine with Boris Johnson of Britain, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, Mario Draghi, the Prime Minister of Italy, President Andrzej Duda of Poland and Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato chief. Ireland told Russia its plans to hold live-fire naval exercises 150 miles off its coast were ‘not welcome’. A power cut affected millions in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 5,609,709 by the beginning of the week. With about 2,248 deaths per million, the United Kingdom had fallen to the 30th place among the countries in the world, with Peru lying in first place with more than 6,000. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, announced the postponement of her wedding as she imposed harsher coronavirus restrictions. Some hamsters were flown out of Hong Kong to escape the massacre of the rodents after 11 had tested positive for Covid. Meat Loaf, whose Bat Out of Hell album had sold 40 million copies, died after catching Covid, aged 74.

More than 100 Islamic State men attacked Ghwayran prison at Hasaka in north-east Syria where more than 3,500 IS detainees were held by Kurdish authorities. Hundreds who escaped were recaptured but hundreds more used 850 children in the jail as human shields. An air strike on a detention centre in Saada, a stronghold of the rebel Houthi movement in Yemen, killed more than 70 people; the Saudi-led coalition denied it made the strike. A 22-year-old Kenyan man was found alive in the nose wheel section of an aeroplane from South Africa when it landed at Amsterdam, and asked for asylum. CSH