In next week’s Queen’s Speech, a remarkably controversial bill will be announced in the most anodyne language. The government will legislate to protect the Belfast Good Friday agreement in its entirety. These words will be a coded threat to the European Union that the UK is prepared to unilaterally tear up parts of the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. The EU has previously said that if this happens, the whole deal could fall.
If Sinn Fein emerges with the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections this week, it will not be because the party has grown in popularity since the last vote in 2017. It will be because support for the DUP is at its lowest in more than two decades.
The DUP has suffered because of its failure to prevent Boris Johnson from agreeing the protocol that left Northern Ireland subject to EU single-market and customs rules.
It’s spring in Tbilisi. The fruit trees are in full blossom, the nights are warm. The Purpur restaurant near the Gudiashvili Gardens and Vinzavod No. 1 on Rustaveli Avenue – favourites of visiting Moscow hipsters and creatives for years – buzz with Russian conversation. ‘Everyone I know is here now,’ says Katya, 43, a museum curator visiting from Moscow. ‘It’s like Kvartira 44 [a Moscow café popular with the intelligentsia] on an outing.
Speak to Tory ministers of a certain background and the question of succession soon arises. But the position they’re talking about is in Windsor, not Westminster – and it has nothing to do with skipping a generation of the monarchy. Pretty soon there will be a new Provost of Eton and, thanks to a quirk of history, it’s a Crown appointment. With so many Old Etonians in this government, including the Business Secretary, Brexit Opportunities Minister and the Prime Minister himself, there’s no shortage of opinions.
The monarchy has a race problem. And it has much more to do with Theresa May and Boris Johnson than the hazy accusations of the Sussexes. Two royal tours on the trot have now been upstaged by accusations of ‘colonialism’. First, the Cambridges took the Queen’s Jubilee message to three of her Caribbean realms. Then the Wessexes visited three more. On both tours, local politicians took the opportunity to lecture their royal guests on historic evils done in the name of the Crown.
During the Afghanistan crisis last summer, Ben Wallace decided that he had what it took to be prime minister. He had suspected it before then, according to friends, but during the evacuation of Kabul the Defence Secretary came to a definitive conclusion.
His prediction that the Taliban would take Kabul had been proved correct, when other senior ministers involved had failed to see it coming. And as the desperate situation played out following the US withdrawal, he hit his stride.
For Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr, the frontrunner for Monday’s Philippine presidential election, a reframing of the country’s past has been crucial to securing his future. Last week, he reminded a television audience what a ‘political genius’ his late father, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr, was. Bongbong’s revisionist history has infuriated many Filipinos but, it seems, resonated with many more. Polls show that he has a 30-point lead over his closest rival, the current vice-president Leni Robredo, though she has drawn massive crowds and expects a late surge of support.
When Britain voted for Brexit, Tony Abbott, the former prime minister of Australia, had an idea. How about striking a new free trade deal between Australia and the UK to celebrate escaping the statism and bureaucracy of Brussels? The deal needed to be only one page long, he argued, because the two countries were already so similar. ‘If a car is fit to be sold in Britain, it’s fit to be sold in Australia,’ he said. ‘If a doctor is fit to practise in Australia, he or she is fit to practise in the UK.
Iranians adore a picnic. During the country’s most ancient festival, Nowruz, the Persian new year, they brandish baskets of food as they swarm into parks and gardens to celebrate Sizdah-bedar, the 13th and final day of the Nowruz celebrations and the coming of spring. In Britain, it’s only just getting warm enough to enjoy a khoresht stew or doogh, a yoghurt drink that tastes a little like Indian lassi. But venture out to Hyde Park and you’ll see groups of young and old Iranians sitting in the pale springtime sun.