Portrait of the week

Portrait of the year: from the collapse of Carillion to the sacking of John Kelly

15 December 2018

9:00 AM

15 December 2018

9:00 AM


Four young men were stabbed to death in London as the New Year began. The Crown Prosecution Service was to review rape cases, after several prosecutions collapsed when evidence was not disclosed to the defence. Carillion went into liquidation. London Zoo delayed its annual stock take after a fire killed an aardvark called Misha. Turkish forces shelled the Kurdish enclave of Afrin. The supreme court of Iceland upheld an import tariff on potato chips of 76 per cent. The Grand Mufti of Egypt said that bitcoin was forbidden by Islam. California legalised recreational cannabis.


The Charity Commission launched an inquiry into Oxfam staff paying for prostitutes in Haiti in 2011. The number of child sexual abuse victims in Rotherham (1997-2013) was more than 1,500, the National Crime Agency said. Henry Bolton was removed as leader of Ukip. Britain sold HMS Ocean to Brazil. Toys R Us went into administration. The Syrian government continued to bombard Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus. Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, members of an Islamic State cell said to have beheaded 27 people, were held by Kurdish forces.


Sergei Skripal, a retired Russian intelligence officer, and his daughter Yulia were found in a bad way on a bench in Salisbury, poisoned by the Russian nerve agent novichok. Cumbrian villagers, cut off by snow, burnt furniture to keep warm. ‘We recognise that anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour party,’ Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said. Facebook apologised for data from millions of users being ‘leaked’ in 2014. The Five Star Movement became Italy’s biggest party. Carles Puigdemont, the breakaway leader of Catalonia, was arrested in Schleswig-Holstein. Vladimir Putin was re-elected President of Russia. President Donald Trump of the United States imposed higher tariffs on steel imports. He sacked Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, replacing him with Mike Pompeo. Arnaud Beltrame, a policeman, was shot dead after taking the place of a woman hostage held by an Islamist terrorist at Trèbes, near Carcassonne. Australian cricketers wept on TV as they confessed to ball tampering.


Amber Rudd resigned as home secretary over targets for deporting illegal immigrants. Sajid Javid replaced her. Many TSB customers were locked out of their accounts. Sainsbury’s planned to merge with Asda. Britain joined America and France in air raids in response to a chemical weapons attack on Douma by the Syrian government. A man killed ten pedestrians with a van in Toronto. China imposed import tariffs on American goods. South Korea sought to please the visiting Kim Jong-un, ruler of North Korea, by feeding him Swiss rösti.


The May bank holiday saw temperatures of 28.7˚C. Meghan Markle married Prince Harry and became the Duchess of Sussex. Marks & Spencer planned to close 100 shops. The Department for Transport took over the East Coast Main Line, after Stagecoach and Virgin pulled out of the franchise. In a referendum, Ireland voted for abortion. Donald Trump said that America was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran. Israeli troops shot dead at least 58 Palestinians who breached the Gaza Strip fence. Nicolas Maduro won the Venezuelan presidential election.


Northern Rail’s new timetables proved chaotic. The Commons voted for a new runway at Heathrow. Poundworld went into administration. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, said that spending on the NHS would rise by £20 billion a year by 2023. Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, withdrew his application for a UK visa. The World Cup opened in Moscow. The Mackintosh Building of the Glasgow School of Art burnt down again. Trump shook hands for 12 seconds with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Canada voted to legalise recreational cannabis. Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected President of Turkey. A boat full of migrants sank off Tunisia and 112 people drowned. Migrant arrivals over the Mediterranean reached about 41,000 up to this point in 2018, with another thousand drowned.


Boris Johnson resigned as foreign secretary, a day after David Davis resigned as Brexit secretary, over May’s Brexit plan agreed by the cabinet held captive at Chequers. On Brexit, Trump said during his visit to Britain: ‘I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me.’ Dawn Sturgess, exposed to novichok at Amesbury, died eight days later. The government launched a £4.5 million scheme to encourage homosexual people to hold hands. Heat and drought continued. Twelve boys and their football coach trapped in underground caves in northern Thailand were found by two British rescue divers.


Sports Direct, run by Mike Ashley, bought House of Fraser. The payday lender Wonga went into administration. British and French fishing boats clashed over scallops. Cars plunged 140 feet from a collapsing motorway bridge near Genoa, killing 43 people. Thousands fled Venezuela. Students pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier erected in 1913 at the University of North Carolina.


Britain was overwhelmed by Brexitry. May showed surprise when the EU rejected her proposals. Mark Carney was to stay governor of the Bank of England until 2020. Alastair Cook scored a century in his last Test match. The European Parliament considered disciplinary proceedings against Hungary for its attitude to migrants. Russia and Turkey announced a demilitarised zone between government and rebel forces in the Syrian province of Idlib. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology, accused Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee for the US Supreme Court, of assaulting her sexually in 1982, when he was 17 and she 15.


Brexit was in crisis. Some hoped for no deal; some hoped for no Brexit; some ate pizza by night in the office of Andrea Leadsom. Marchers in London called for a ‘People’s Vote’. Austerity was ‘finally coming to an end’, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, said. At Patisserie Valerie ‘accounting irregularities’ were found. John Lewis stopped selling DVD players. Turkey said that the Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Russian Orthodox Church cut ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople over recognition of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. A man shot 11 dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. The US Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. The Supreme Court in Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, on death row since 2010. Angela Merkel said she would resign as German chancellor in 2021.


The nation marked the centenary of the Armistice. May had a hard time defending her EU withdrawal agreement. Dominic Raab resigned as Brexit secretary. Jacob Rees-Mogg failed to gain enough support to challenge May’s leadership. Amber Rudd returned to the cabinet. Johnston Press, owners of the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post, was bought out by a newly formed company. The Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives but strengthened their majority in the Senate. At least 76 died in wildfires sweeping California. The government of Pakistan agreed with protestors to bar Asia Bibi from leaving the country. Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea. New Caledonia rejected independence from France in a referendum. The 127th person murdered in London in 2018 (the 70th stabbed to death) died in Shoreditch.


The agony of Theresa May’s schemes for Brexit stretched beyond all reason. Nigel Farage left Ukip. O2’s network stopped working for a day. The French, wearing gilets jaunes, rioted in the streets. President Trump sacked John Kelly as his chief of staff, the 28th departure from the White House in Mr Trump’s administration. Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, was arrested in Vancouver and faced extradition to the United States on charges relating to sanctions against Iran. Qatar said it was pulling out of the Opec oil producers’ cartel. Russia harassed Ukrainian shipping. The number of migrants drowned in the Mediterranean since the start of the year rose to at least 2,160.

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