Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Brexit approaches, Extinction Rebellion protests and Donald Trump tweets

12 October 2019

9:00 AM

12 October 2019

9:00 AM


After a telephone conversation between Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, a Downing Street spokesman said she had made clear that a withdrawal agreement with the EU was ‘overwhelmingly unlikely’; Mrs Merkel had insisted on Northern Ireland staying in the Customs Union, which the Democratic Unionist party called ‘beyond crazy’. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, tweeted that Mr Johnson was playing a ‘stupid blame game’.There was great excitement over a message sent to James Forsyth of The Spectator, generally thought to have come from Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser. ‘We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal,’ it said. The government would make it clear to the EU that ‘parliament is asking for a delay but official government policy remains that delay is an atrocious idea’. The Court of Session in Scotland ruled that there was no need for ‘coercive orders’ against the Prime Minister to comply with the Benn Act. The government had assured the court that Johnson recognised ‘he cannot act so as to prevent the letter requesting the specified extension in the act from being sent’. In an appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session, the court was asked to use its nobile officium powers to meet the demands of the Benn Act if the Prime Minister failed to. Parliament was prorogued on the 90th birthday of the former Speaker Lady Boothroyd. The State Opening of parliament was set for 14 October. Ginger Baker, the former drummer of Cream, died aged 80.

Extinction Rebellion, having made a mess of spraying fake blood on to the Treasury from a fire engine, turned its attention to blocking roads in central London. Tents were pitched in Whitehall. Some 600 people were arrested in two days. At the launch of Charles Moore’s final volume of his biography of Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson referred to them as ‘unco-operative crusties’, in ‘hemp-smelling bivouacs’.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct found no evidence of misconduct in Operation Midland, which spent £2.5 million pursuing accusations of murder and sexual abuse against eminent figures by a fantasist, Carl Beech, now in jail. But an unredacted report by Sir Richard Henriques highlighted police actions that invited prosecution, notably the gaining of search warrants under false pretences. Scotland banned smacking. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex sued various papers for allegedly publishing a private letter and hacking phone messages. The Prince of Wales prepared to fly to Rome to witness the canonisation of John Henry Newman.


President Donald Trump of the United States announced that America would pull its troops out of north-east Syria. This would allow Turkey to invade a northern band of Syria currently occupied by Kurdish-led forces which had been essential in the defeat of Isis. Mr Trump’s announcement followed a telephone conversation with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. But later Mr Trump tweeted: ‘If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done [sic] before!).’ More than 100 people were killed and thousands wounded by security forces in a week of protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq against bad conditions, unemployment and corruption. The White House refused to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry directed against Mr Trump.

Hong Kong imposed a ban on face-masks, but tens of thousands of protesters, most wearing masks, took to the streets daily. Violence increased, the metro was closed, protesters threw petrol bombs and bricks, and smashed windows; police used watercannon, plastic bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and truncheons. Hong Kong’s stock exchange dropped its £32 billion bid for the London Stock Exchange. President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador moved the government out of Quito to Guayaquil in the face of protests about fuel prices.

A man killed four people at a police headquarters in Paris and was shot by police; he was said to have Salafist Islamic connections. A man aged 24 was charged with murdering four homeless men in New York by bludgeoning them with a pipe as they slept. Eleven elephants died after falling over a waterfall in Thailand, in an attempt, some thought, to save a calf.   CSH

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