Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: The Speaker resigns, BA pilots strike and Mugabe dies

14 September 2019

9:00 AM

14 September 2019

9:00 AM


A bill sponsored by Hilary Benn and supported by Alistair Burt and other dissident Tories was passed — becoming the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. It commanded the Prime Minister to send by 19 October a letter of stipulated wording to the President of the European Council requesting that the deadline for Britain leaving the EU under Article 50 be extended until 31 January. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, said he’d ‘rather be dead in a ditch’ than ask for an extension. The government was twice defeated on a motion for a general election to be held on 15 October. A tearful John Bercow told the Commons he would resign as Speaker on 31 October. Welsh MPs sang at 2 a.m. and others tugged at the Speaker’s limbs to signal their unhappiness at the prorogation of parliament until 14 October. A block of 23 flats built this century at Worcester Park, Surrey, was destroyed by fire.

Twenty-one Conservative MPs who voted against the government on the Benn-Burt Bill had the whip withdrawn and were told they could not be Conservative candidates at the next election; these included Father of the House Kenneth Clarke, former chancellor Philip Hammond, and Sir Nicholas Soames, whose father oversaw the independence of Zimbabwe. Jo Johnson, the Prime Minister’s brother, resigned as a minister. Amber Rudd resigned from the cabinet and relinquished the Conservative whip. British Airways pilots went on strike for two days and 1,600 flights were cancelled. The government said it will allow international students to stay in Britain for two years after graduation. Officials intercepted 86 people crossing the English Channel on the same day.

Geoffrey Boycott, the cricketer, was knighted in Theresa May’s resignation honours, as was Oliver Robbins, her Brexit negotiator. Even Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, the aides she sacked after the disastrous 2017 election, were appointed CBE. Sir Kim Darroch, who resigned as ambassador to the United States after falling out with the Trump administration, was made a life peer, choosing to sit as a crossbencher. David Lidington and Robbie Gibb were also knighted and Gavin Barwell made a peer. Sir Patrick McLoughlin was appointed Companion of Honour. On Jeremy Corbyn’s nomination, Christine Blower, the former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, was ennobled. Peerages also went to John Mann, who has left Labour to become a government anti-Semitism tsar, and the Green party’s former leader Natalie Bennett, celebrated for a radio ‘brain fade’ in 2015. Gross domestic product grew by 0.3 per cent in July, average pay rose by 4 per cent in the year to July, and unemployment fell to 3.8 per cent. Australia retained the Ashes.


President Donald Trump of the United States sacked his National Security Adviser John Bolton. Mr Trump called off talks with the Afghan Taleban after a suicide car bomb in Kabul killed an American soldier and 11 others: ‘We would like to get out, but we will get out at the right time,’ he said in reference to the 14,000 American troops still in Afghanistan. America was reported to have extracted from Russia Oleg Smolenkov, who worked for an aide to President Vladimir Putin and was alleged to have been a high-level spy. Iran delivered 2.1 million barrels of oil to Syria in the tanker Grace 1, in breach of assurances given after it was impounded by Gibraltar in July. At least 31 people were killed in a stampede in the Iraqi city of Karbala during the Shia holy day of Ashura. Russia and Ukraine exchanged prisoners, including 24 Ukrainian sailors and a Russian said to be ‘of interest’ in the Dutch-led investigation into the shooting-down in 2014 of a Malaysian airliner, with the loss of 298 lives.

Robert Mugabe, prime minister of the new Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and its president from 1987 to 2017, as it fell into poverty, violence and corruption, died aged 95.  Rwanda agreed with the UNHCR and the African Union to take in hundreds of African migrants being held in Libyan detention centres. The Pope visited Mozambique, Mauritius and Madagascar.

Ursula von der Leyen, new President of the European Commission, named the 13 women and 14 men she has nominated as commissioners, including Phil Hogan from Ireland as Trade Commissioner. Jack Ma retired as chairman of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant he co-founded in 1999. India lost contact with its moon module before it was due to touch down. CSH

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