The Spectator

Portrait of the year | 13 December 2017

Also in Portrait of the Year: chaos in the White House and the Grenfell Tower tragedy

Portrait of the year | 13 December 2017
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‘No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,’ Theresa May, the Prime Minister, declared in a speech at Lancaster House. Britain would leave the single market and customs union on leaving the European Union, she said. The Supreme Court ruled that only by an Act of Parliament could Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty trigger Britain’s departure. Mrs May held the hand of President Donald Trump as they walked down a declivity at the White House; she asked him to make a state visit in 2017, but it was not to be. Mr Trump suspended entry to America for people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. A man shot dead 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub. Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, took out advertisements telling immigrants: ‘Behave normally or go away.’ About 100 migrants drowned off Libya. The Earl of Snowdon, married to Princess Margaret 1960-78, died aged 86. Alexander Chancellor, the editor of The Spectator 1975-84, died aged 77. A woman was fined £80 for pouring a cup of coffee down a drain in Ealing.


Labour lost a by-election at Copeland, its seat since 1935. Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the North Korean dictator, was killed at Kuala Lumpur airport by two North Korean women using poison. Iraqi government forces attacked Isis forces in Mosul. Michael Flynn resigned as the US National Security Adviser. Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, raised his eyes to heaven when Mr Trump shook his hand for 19 seconds.


Theresa May gave formal notice of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. A week after the Budget, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, dropped an increase in National Insurance for the self-employed. Four people were killed on Westminster Bridge by a car driven at them by a man who then stabbed dead a policeman on duty at the gates of Parliament. Martin McGuinness, an IRA commander and then deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, died aged 66. More than 200 migrants drowned off Libya.


Mrs May announced there would be a general election on 8 June. In Egypt, two Isis bombers killed 47 Coptic worshippers. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey won a referendum extending his powers. Over Easter, more than 8,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean. The UN said that 18 million of the 25 million people in Yemen, torn apart by a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, needed urgent assistance.


Twenty-two people were killed by a man who blew himself up at the Manchester Arena. In the election campaign, Mrs May kept saying ‘Strong and stable’ and ate chips in Cornwall. North Korea test-fired another ballistic missile. The NHS was hit by a vermiform global ransomware computer virus. British Airways computers failed, stranding 75,000 passengers. Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France. President Trump sacked James Comey as director of the FBI. Mike Dubke resigned as White House communications director. Two boats sank off Libya, drowning 245 migrants; 43,000 reached Italy this year. In Egypt, 28 Coptic Christians were shot dead en route to the monastery of St Samuel the Confessor.


In the election the Conservatives lost their overall majority, with 318 seats (a loss of 13) against Labour’s 262 (a gain of 30). The government bought the support of the Democratic Unionist Party by promising to spend a billion or two. Angry backbenchers made Mrs May dispense with her bosom advisers, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. Paul Nuttall resigned as leader of Ukip. On the eve of the election, eight people were killed by three men driving into pedestrians on London Bridge, then attacking people with knives, before being shot dead. Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey block of flats in west London, was gutted by fire, killing 71. Saudi Arabia blamed Qatar for links with ‘Iranian-backed terrorists’ and King Salman, aged 81, replaced his nephew with his own son Mohammed, aged 31, as crown prince. Spain’s failing Banco Popular was bought by Santander for €1.


Dame Helen Ghosh, the head of the National Trust, was named as the next Master of Balliol. A tartan was registered in Barack Obama’s name. American-backed Syrian forces attacked Isis in Raqqa’s Old City. The Iraqi government declared victory against Isis in Mosul. Sean Spicer resigned after six months as the White House press secretary. Mr Trump tweeted that General John Kelly was his new chief of staff, replacing Reince Priebus. General Kelly showed Anthony Scaramucci the door after a week as communications director.


Big Ben was silenced until 2021 lest its chimes harm the ears of workmen restoring its tower. Kezia Dugdale resigned as leader of the Scottish Labour party. A van driven into the crowd in the Ramblas in Barcelona killed 14 people. President Trump said that if North Korea showed aggression to Guam, it would be met by ‘fire, fury and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before’. North Korea fired a missile over Japan.


The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill gained a second reading by 326 to 290. In a 5,357-word speech in Florence, Mrs May proposed ‘an implementation period of around two years’ after March 2019, during which Britain would abide by EU rules. A homemade bomb burst into flames in an Underground train at Parsons Green, injuring 30. A 130-ton fatberg was found in a sewer in Whitechapel. More than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine in Burma. North Korea fired another missile over Japan.


Mrs May, asked by Iain Dale on LBC, ‘If there was a Brexit vote now, would you vote Brexit?’ repeatedly refused to say. The flagpole at Edinburgh Castle on which the Union flag flies snapped in high winds. Bloomberg opened new European headquarters in the City of London. Spanish police tried to stop voting in a referendum on independence for Catalonia. Spain suspended the autonomous government of Catalonia and called elections there for December. Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Catalan parliament, fled to Brussels. Austria banned full-face veils. In Las Vegas, a man opened fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel, killing 58 and wounding 500. Wildfires in California destroyed 8,900 buildings and killed 42 people. Harvey Weinstein, the film producer accused of sexually harassing women employees, was sacked by his company. US-backed forces took control of Raqqa. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was named a World Health Organisation goodwill ambassador, an appointment revoked three days later.


A blizzard of accusations of sexual impropriety swept the land. Sir Michael Fallon resigned as Defence Secretary. Carl Sargeant, sacked as a Labour minister in the Welsh Assembly, killed himself. After complaints about the actor Kevin Spacey, he was dropped from films and the TV series House of Cards. Priti Patel resigned as International Development Secretary after secret, but non-sexual, meetings with Israeli political figures. Moped crime continued to be fashionable. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. The engagement was announced of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia arrested 11 princes. Saad al-Hariri, detained in Riyadh, resigned as prime minister of Lebanon, then unresigned when he got back home. The army in Zimbabwe made Robert Mugabe step down as president after 37 years in power.


Theresa May was at last allowed by the EU to take Brexit talks to their next phase, after a DUP last-minute refusal to countenance the terms had spoilt a lunch of fish and tarte tatin with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. Christine Keeler, renowned for her part in the Profumo affair, died aged 75. Johnny Hallyday, the strange French pop star, died aged 74. Mr Trump said Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. Australia legalised same-sex marriage. Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, soared unstably to $15,000.   CSH