Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Government surpluses, desperate Donald and a prisons meltdown

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

25 August 2018

9:00 AM


Government finances were in surplus by £2 billion in July. Public sector net debt rose to £1,777.5 billion, equal to 84.3 per cent of GDP, £17.5 billion more than a year before, but less as a proportion of GDP than last year’s 86 per cent. Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, flew to Washington and made a speech urging the European Union to take stronger sanctions against Russia. President Vladimir Putin of Russia danced with Karin Kneissl, the new foreign minister of Austria, at her wedding, and then met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany at the Meseberg Palace near Berlin.

The government took over the management of Birmingham prison from G4S midway through its contract after Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, described it as the worst prison he had ever been to. Inspectors found blood, vomit and rat droppings on the floor, with cockroaches and an overpowering smell of drugs. Staff were found asleep or locked away from prisoners for fear. Sir Norman Bettison, formerly of South Yorkshire Police, had the four charges against him of misconduct in a public office, arising from the Hillsborough disaster, dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, which said there was insufficient evidence and no real prospect of securing a conviction. Shoppers and staff had to leave Sainsbury’s store in Ripon, North Yorkshire, after a sinkhole opened up in an alley next to it.

Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, and Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, said that Brexit talks would now be held ‘continuously’ somehow. The government decided to publish the first bunch of dozens of technical notices that countenanced leaving the European Union without a deal. Mr Raab said that Britain would ‘move swiftly’ to safeguard the future of EU citizens if there was no deal. Nigel Farage, the Ukip MEP, said he was going to campaign against the plans for Brexit pursued by Theresa May, the Prime Minister. Julian Dunkerton, a founder of Superdry, the clothing brand, gave £1 million to fund opinion polls for the People’s Vote campaign to thwart Brexit. Sir Peter Tapsell, who sat as a Tory MP from 1959 to 2015, with a gap between 1964 and 1966, died aged 88. Jeremy Catto, the medieval historian and Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, died aged 79.


Venezuela, stricken with hyperinflation, issued a new ‘sovereign bolivar’ to replace the ‘strong bolivar’, with the effect that a cup of coffee that had cost 2.5 million bolivars now cost 25 bolivars; but people in Caracas were limited to withdrawing ten sovereign bolivars from cash machines. Greece was released from its three-year eurozone emergency debt programme, becoming able for the first time in eight years to borrow money in the open market. Students pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier erected in 1913 at the University of North Carolina. Aretha Franklin, the soul singer, died aged 76. Pope Francis set off for a weekend in Dublin, where the triennial World Meeting of Families was being held. More than 41,000 people were infected with measles in Europe in the first six months of this year, leading to 37 deaths.

Michael Cohen, the former lawyer of President Donald Trump of the United States, pleaded guilty to breaking electoral finance laws and implicated the president as the man who directed him to do so. Paul Manafort was found guilty of fraud before he became Mr Trump’s campaign manager. US officials said they thought that Ibrahim al-Asiri, the chief bombmaker for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, had been killed in a drone strike in Yemen last year. As President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan was speaking on television to mark the feast of Eid al-Adha, mortars could be heard exploding nearby in Kabul. PepsiCo announced it was buying the Israel-based Sodastream for $3.2 billion. Many employees of Google protested against plans for the company to launch a search engine in China that would be subject to censorship.

About a million people were given refuge in camps after severe floods devastated Kerala, killing about 400 people. Funerals were held for the 43 people who died when the Morandi motorway bridge at Genoa collapsed. Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, died aged 80. The town of Broken Hill was mobbed by emus looking for water during the continuing drought in New South Wales.    CSH

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