Portrait of the week

Lockdown, protests, parties and Matt Hancock’s kiss

18 December 2021

9:00 AM

18 December 2021

9:00 AM


The United Kingdom found itself in possession of a trade agreement with the EU. Coronavirus restrictions were tightened. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was administered with authorisation for the first time; retired doctors could not vaccinate before undergoing ‘diversity’ training. To prevent vaccines being exported from the EU to Northern Ireland, the EU prepared to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, but soon changed its mind. The Capitol in Washington, DC was overrun by weird people, one with horns, supporting President Donald Trump, despite his electoral defeat. Joe Biden was inaugurated as President a week later.


The government promised to legalise the drinking of coffee by two people on a park bench. Captain Sir Tom Moore, aged 100, who raised £32 million for NHS charities, died after catching Covid. The Queen confirmed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex could not ‘continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service’. They responded: ‘We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.’ After a military coup in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi was detained. More migrants crossed the Channel on small craft. A meteor flashed through the night and fell apart near Stow-on-the-Wold.


The Duchess of Sussex and her husband shared their sufferings with Oprah Winfrey on television; the Duchess said that, three days before her wedding at Windsor, she had been married ‘in our backyard’ by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Buckingham Palace commented: ‘Some recollections may vary.’ Children returned to school. The government annoyed nurses with a 1 per cent pay rise. In a protest in Bristol called Kill the Bill, 500 people set fire to police cars. Greensill Capital went bust; it had backed Sanjeev Gupta, whose Liberty Steel owns 12 plants in Britain. The 1,300ft Ever Given, loaded with 18,300 containers, was freed after a week wedged across the Suez canal.


The Duke of Edinburgh died, aged 99. At his funeral for 30, under coronavirus regulations, at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the Queen sat in a black mask alone in a stall in the Quire. The Appeal Court overturned 39 sub-postmasters’ convictions (based on faulty computer analysis) for theft. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham announced a new European Super League with six top continental teams; the scheme soon collapsed. In Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd in May 2020 when he was a policeman. In Iran, nuclear centrifuges 150ft underground were destroyed in an attack attributed to Israel. Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong pro-democracy tycoon, was jailed for 14 months. Fire swept the Mountains of Mourne in Co. Down.


The Queen, not wearing a mask, opened parliament. Indoor restaurants and pubs reopened. The government encouraged hugging. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, married Carrie Symonds unannounced in Westminster Cathedral. Jill Mortimer won Hartlepool for the Conservatives. The SNP won 64 seats in the Scottish parliament, one short of a majority. Edwin Poots became leader of the Democratic Unionist party. A report blamed Martin Bashir for deceiving the late Diana, Princess of Wales, before a television interview in 1995, and the BBC for failing to investigate properly. More than 8,000 people swam from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Ten Israelis and 200 Palestinians died in a week of conflict. Belarus forced a Ryanair plane from Athens to land at Minsk and took away an opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega. China landed a spaceship on Mars.


Matt Hancock resigned as health secretary after photographs showed him kissing an aide in contravention of coronavirus regulations. Kate Bingham, who chaired the Vaccine Taskforce, became a dame. Pubs and restaurants ran short of staff. G7 leaders met in Cornwall. Britain signed a deal with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein on prawns. Edwin Poots was out again, succeeded by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. John Bercow, the former Speaker, joined the Labour party. The Duchess of Sussex gave birth to a girl, Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, to be known as Lili.


The NHS was awarded the George Cross. In one week, 520,194 people were ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app and told to isolate. Liverpool was removed from Unesco’s World Heritage list. England lost to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 championship. The Olympic Games were held in Tokyo in empty stadiums. In Cuba, thousands protested, shouting ‘freedom’, and hundreds were arrested. Lytton in British Columbia, in temperatures of 49.6°C, was destroyed by fire.


The Taliban suddenly took Kabul. With its allies, America evacuated 123,000 civilians. Outside the airport, in terrible heat, thousands, some knee-deep in an open sewage canal, jostled to be flown out. An Islamic State bomber killed 170 of them. Greece built a 25-mile wall on the Turkish border to keep out asylum seekers from Afghanistan. On one day, 828 migrants crossed the Channel to England. Nando’s ran out of chicken and McDonald’s out of milkshakes, because of a shortage of lorry drivers. The BBC’s Panoramasaid that David Cameron made £7 million from his work for Greensill. The campaign to free Princess Latifa, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, was disbanded after she was photographed in Iceland.


Boris Johnson announced a ‘health and social care levy’ on top of National Insurance, breaking the Conservative manifesto. A shortage of petrol at garages produced a vicious circle of worry and queues; the shortage of lorry drivers was blamed. Gas prices soared. Carbon dioxide ran out. An accord with America and Britain gave Australia the capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, enraging France. Poland imposed a state of emergency on the border with Belarus, which was accused of encouraging migrants. In one day, more than 1,000 migrants crossed the Channel, bringing the total for the year to 12,000. A policeman, Wayne Couzens, was sentenced to a whole-life term for the abduction and murder in March of Sarah Everard, aged 33. A volcano erupted on La Palma in the Canary Islands, driving 6,000 from their homes.


The Queen did not attend the COP26 meeting, having spent a night in hospital. Sir David Amess, the Conservative MP for Southend West, was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery. The 29.2 million people in work exceeded the pre-Covid peak of 29.06 million. Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, said the Northern Ireland Protocol was not working. Tesla agreed to sell 100,000 cars to Hertz. Trading in Evergrande, the debt-burdened Chinese property, was suspended on the Hong Kong stock exchange.


India and China reduced the effect of the COP26 agreement in Glasgow by changing ‘phase out’ coal to ‘phase down’ coal. The government made a mess of reforming the parliamentary standards system while Owen Paterson was facing a suspension over lobbying; he decided to stop being an MP. Lord Patel of Bradford, the new chairman of Yorkshire cricket club, apologised to a former player, Azeem Rafiq, who had complained of racism. Britain and France had a small fishing war. On one day, 1,185 migrants crossed the Channel, bringing the year’s total to 23,500. The migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border grew worse. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front advanced towards Addis Ababa. Millions in Afghanistan faced starvation.


Boris Johnson was asked to explain how a party at Downing Street on 18 December 2020 met coronavirus restrictions. Allegra Stratton, his press secretary at the time, resigned from her government post after a video was found of her practising justification of the staff gathering in No. 10’s £2.6 million briefing room. Another video showed the Prime Minister during lockdown presiding over a quiz on Zoom. Restrictions and boosters for all were promised to counter Omicron. Presidents Biden and Putin talked as Russia massed troops on the border of Ukraine. Tornadoes struck Kentucky. Hunting remained legal in Northern Ireland after Sinn Fein whipped its assembly members to defeat a bill to ban it. CSH

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