Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Queen Camilla, a cabinet rejig and NHS waiting list warning

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

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In a message for the 70th anniversary of her accession, the Queen said it was her sincere wish that ‘when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort’. She signed the message: ‘Your servant, Elizabeth R.’ Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the government would pay energy suppliers to discount bills by £200 in October, but customers would then have to pay back £40 a year for five years. People living in houses of the A-D council tax bands would receive a £150 rebate. The regular Ofgem energy price cap adjustment meant that a typical household would pay £693 extra a year, a 54 per cent rise. Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, was asked whether the Bank was asking workers not to demand big pay rises, and replied: ‘Broadly, yes.’ The Bank doubled interest rates from 0.25 per cent to 0.5 per cent. Spectators chanted ‘RSPCA’ at the West Ham player Kurt Zouma after a video had shown him kicking his cat.

Jacob Rees-Mogg became minister for Brexit opportunities, with a seat in the cabinet. He was replaced as leader of the House by Mark Spencer, who was replaced as chief whip by Chris Heaton-Harris, who was replaced as minister for Europe by James Cleverly. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, appointed a new chief of staff, Steve Barclay, already Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. This was meant to cheer up MPs after Martin Reynolds (who had sent out the invitation in May 2020 to ‘bring your own booze’) resigned as the PM’s principal private secretary; Dan Rosenfield, the chief of staff, went; Jack Doyle had to go as director of communications; and Munira Mirza resigned as head of policy, mentioning the ‘scurrilous accusation against the leader of the opposition’, Sir Keir Starmer, made at Prime Minister’s Questions, of ‘failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile’. She was replaced by a Tory MP, Andrew Griffith, and the new director of communications was Guto Harri, late of the BBC. Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, ruled out assembly elections before 5 May despite the resignation (as a Democratic Unionist protest against the Northern Ireland protocol) of Paul Givan as first minister, which brought the loss for Michelle O’Neill, of Sinn Féin, of her position as deputy first minister.


Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said that numbers waiting for NHS treatment (one in nine people in England) would increase for a time as Covid dwindled. GCSE and A-level exams this summer would be graded more generously than in pre-pandemic years. In the seven days up to the beginning of this week, 2,630 people had died with coronavirus, bringing total deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 158,243. (In the previous week, deaths had numbered 1,926.) Numbers with Covid remaining in hospital fell from about 16,000 to fewer than 14,000. Police gave Sir Keir Starmer sanctuary in a car when anti-vaccination protestors mobbed him. Bamber Gascoigne, who presented University Challenge from 1962 to 1987, died aged 87.

Abroad

President Vladimir Putin of Russia received President Emmanuel Macron of France for talks in Moscow at opposite ends of an absurdly long table. In Washington, President Joe Biden received Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and said that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline would be halted if Russia invaded Ukraine.

A state of emergency was declared in Ottawa, where lorry drivers continued to block streets in protest against compulsory vaccination for any who wanted to drive in from the United States. The protest took on a wider object of opposing state interference. The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 5,751,883 by the beginning of the week. The United Kingdom fell to 30th place in the world in the proportion of deaths to population, with 2,312 per million, compared with Peru’s 6,138 and 2,771 in the United States. Eighteen people were rescued after being stranded on an ice floe in Lake Erie.

Some athletes complained that it was too cold at the Winter Olympics in China. Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star, said that there has been a ‘huge misunderstanding’ over a social media post in November in which she claimed she was forced into having sexual relations with a former Chinese party leader. ‘I never said anyone sexually assaulted me,’ she said in a tightly controlled press conference. In Morocco, crowds thought that Rayan Oram, a five-year-old boy who had fallen 100ft down a ten-inch wide well, had been saved by rescuers who had dug down to reach him; but they could only recover his dead body.

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