Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Cabinet reshuffle, another royal divorce and coronavirus hits iPhones

21 February 2020

10:00 PM

21 February 2020

10:00 PM


The Budget, still scheduled for 11 March, had to be rewritten after Rishi Sunak was made Chancellor of the Exchequer when Sajid Javid resigned rather than agree to his special advisers being sacked and provision being pooled between No. 10 and No. 11 Downing Street. Questions were asked about how far this was the work of Dominic Cummings, the chief adviser to Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister. In the cabinet shuffle, Julian Smith was replaced as Northern Ireland Secretary by Brandon Lewis. Suella Braverman replaced Geoffrey Cox as Attorney General; she had recently written an article regretting that ‘decisions of an executive, legislative and democratic nature have been assumed by our courts’. Caroline Flack, aged 40, the former presenter of Love Island, a reality show, was found dead, by her own hand, it was thought; she had been facing trial for the assault of her boyfriend. The Earl and Countess of Snowdon are to divorce.

Humberside Police unlawfully interfered with a man’s right to free speech by turning up at his place of work to speak to him about allegedly ‘transphobic’ tweets, the High Court ruled. Police had told Harry Miller that he had not committed a crime, but that his tweeting was being recorded as a ‘hate incident’. In his judgment, Mr Justice Julian Knowles said: ‘In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.’ Andrew Sabisky, employed as a Downing Street aide, resigned after being criticised for previous controversial statements, such as tweeting last year: ‘Women’s sport is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s.’

Rain a week after another storm brought flooding to South Wales and the Marches. Eight of the nine people in Britain being treated for the coronavirus Covid-19 were discharged from hospital. The 94 quarantined in the Wirral were released, but 118 were still in quarantine in Milton Keynes. The government outlined a points system for future immigration. Unemployment fell to 3.8 per cent. Average wages rose to £512 a week, the highest since March 2008. The Consumer Prices Index put the annual rate of inflation at 1.8 per cent in January (up from 1.4 per cent in December). HSBC, with profits down by a third last year, said it would cut staff globally from 235,000 to 200,000 in three years. The Royal Bank of Scotland Group was to change its name to the NatWest Group. Uefa banned Manchester City from European club competitions for two seasons after finding that it had committed ‘serious breaches’ of Uefa’s financial fair play regulations.


In China more than 2,000 people had died of Covid-19. Beijing ordered anyone returning to the city to stay in quarantine for 14 days. In Hubei, the centre of the outbreak, 60 million people were ordered to stay at home. America repatriated 380 of its citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama since 3 February; when 542 of the 3,711 on board had developed the disease, Britain decided to rescue its 74 citizens. Half a dozen officials in Hubei were sacked and in Wuhan, its capital, disinfectant was uselessly sprayed from lorries. Apple warned that disruption in China would mean a shortage in worldwide iPhone supplies.

‘To think that we might accept EU supervision on so-called level playing field issues simply fails to see the point of what we are doing,’ Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, said in a speech in Brussels. ‘Political and economic independence,’ he said, was the ‘point of Brexit.’ But Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, countered by saying: ‘We have proposed a trade agreement with a country that has a very particular and unique close geographical proximity — not like Canada.’ The EU then said it wanted the Elgin Marbles back too. The EU agreed to mount a naval patrol off Libya to enforce a UN arms embargo. Rainy weather in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania sent the price of tomatoes up from 4p to 28p each.

In the face of government advances in northern Syria, 900,000 people, most of them women and children, had been forced to flee since early December, the UN said. William Barr, the US Attorney General, asked President Donald Trump to stop tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases: ‘I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.’ CSH

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