Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Crisis talks and pizza in Andrea Leadsom’s office

20 October 2018

9:00 AM

20 October 2018

9:00 AM


Brexit was in crisis as the European Council (of heads of state or government) met. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, told the House of Commons that it was time for ‘cool, calm heads to prevail’. These proved in short supply. Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Penny Mordaunt, Chris Grayling, Liz Truss and Geoffrey Cox openly ate pizza in the office of Andrea Leadsom. The EU rejected Mrs May’s proposal that the UK as a whole could remain under the EU customs union for a definitely limited time after 2020 (when the planned transition period ends). Some hoped for no deal; some hoped for no Brexit. Mary Midgley, the philosopher, died aged 99. Failure of overhead electricity lines led to services from Paddington being cancelled. At Manchester Oxford Road station, 68 per cent of trains this year were found to be late.

John Bercow’s position as Speaker was called into question by Dame Laura Cox’s independent report on the House of Commons, which found bullying and sexual harassment in a culture of ‘deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence’ and concluded that the changes needed would be hard to make ‘under the current senior house administration’. Mr Bercow called for an independent body to be set up to investigate such allegations and told friends he would resign next summer. So-called religious hate crime cases grew from 5,949 last year to 8,336 this year, according to the Home Office; 52 per cent of the crimes were directed at Muslims. Not content with that, the Home Office announced a review of whether hatred of men, old people and goths should be added to the list. The Duchess of Sussex is expecting a child in the spring, who will be seventh in line to the throne.

Pay rose by an annual rate of 3.1 per cent in the three months to August, the highest rate in nine years. Inflation fell back to 2.4 per cent from 2.7 per cent. Unemployment fell by 47,000 to 1.36 million, remaining at 4 per cent. The government decided to introduce Universal Credit more slowly after much criticism of injustices in its application. Cuadrilla began fracking operations at Little Plumpton, Lancashire, after a legal challenge failed. A man appeared in court charged with fraudulently claiming a £2,525,485 lottery win in 2009. Clinical trials proceeded on the effects on depression of the horse anaesthetic and popular party drug ketamine. The Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Julian Assange has enjoyed refuge since 2012, instructed him to attend to the ‘wellbeing, food and hygiene’ of the cat that shares his company.


Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, met Saudi leaders in Riyadh as Turkey and Saudi Arabia wrangled over the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkey said had been murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. The United Nations warned that 13 million people in Yemen were facing starvation after three years of civil war. The US military said it had killed about 60 al-Shabab militants in an air strike in central Somalia. Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft, died aged 65. Sears, the US department store chain that employs 90,000 people, filed for bankruptcy. A food company in San Francisco that grows chicken nuggets from chicken feather cells plans to make them available in restaurants before the year is out.

The Russian Orthodox Church severed its connections with the Ecumenical Patriarchy of Constantinople over the latter’s recognition of independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. MPs in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia debated the adoption of the name North Macedonia after a referendum on the question attracted only a third of the electorate, too small a proportion to make it valid. The Pope canonised Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador shot in 1980, and Pope Paul VI, author of the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968.

New laws in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang prescribed detention in ‘vocational training centres’ for people such as Uighur Muslims who refused to watch state television. Sierra Leone cancelled a £300 million project, financed by China, for a new airport outside its capital, Freetown. Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, gave half of the 20 ministerial posts in his administration to women, they being, he said, less corrupt. Audi (owned by Volkswagen) accepted a fine of €800 million from German prosecutors investigating breaches of diesel emission rules. A Frenchman out shooting in the Alps killed a Welsh chef on a bicycle by mistake.      CSH

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