Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: the Brexit world, the non-Brexit world and Mars

1 December 2018

9:00 AM

1 December 2018

9:00 AM


Theresa May, the Prime Minister, seemed to succeed in uniting the country in opposition to the withdrawal agreement to which she and the leaders of the other 27 EU members had assented at a summit in Brussels. Sir Michael Fallon called it ‘the worst of all worlds’. The Prime Minister had ‘given up’, according to Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, which has propped up the government in parliament. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said that Parliament would have ‘little choice’ but to reject the deal when MPs vote on it on 11 December, before a summit of European leaders on 13 December. Parliamentary arithmeticians counted 96 Conservative MPs who should vote against the government. But Westminster was awash with plots and scheming.

May had given an account to the House of Commons of the 585-page withdrawal agreement (legally binding once ratified). There was also a 26-page political declaration of aspirations for the United Kingdom’s future relations with the EU. Rejecting the deal would take things ‘back to square one’, she warned. ‘This is the only deal possible,’ said Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. The agreement provided for Britain to stay in the single market and customs union, without representation in any decision-making institutions, for 21 months after withdrawal on 29 March 2019. There would be an extension of that period of up to two years if negotiations over future relations had not been completed. The political declaration made mention of ‘facilitative arrangements and technologies’ to resolve the Irish border problem and avoid the ‘backstop’ of a continuing customs union coming into force.

May wrote a letter to the people of Britain assuring them that the withdrawal agreement ‘works for our whole country and all of our people, whether you voted Leave or Remain’. She declared: ‘We will be an independent coastal state once again, with full control over our waters.’ Later that day, President Emmanuel Macron of France said the UK would be trapped in a customs union after Brexit unless it gave EU fishermen full access to British waters. President Donald Trump of the United States thought the agreement scuppered a trade deal between Britain and the US: ‘If you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us,’ he said. Pedro Sanchez, the socialist Prime Minister of Spain, had threatened to vote against the agreement unless clarification was provided for Article 184 with regard to Gibraltar. Gibraltar, which wanted to remain in the EU, was happy with the agreement. May said: ‘I will always stand by Gibraltar.’


Matthew Hedges, a doctoral student at Durham University, was pardoned by the United Arab Emirates and released from a life sentence on charges of spying; a video was shown of him confessing to being a ‘captain’ in MI6, which does not use military ranks. The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Dragon seized three tons of hashish from a dhow in the Gulf. Since 3 November, 101 migrants who claimed to be Iranians had been found attempting to cross the Channel in small boats. An inquest heard that police were told not to try to save a man in a van sinking into the Thames. ‘To go into deep or fast-flowing water was something we would discourage,’ a police inspector said in evidence. Five people said to be mentally ill rang the Metropolitan Police 8,655 times between them in 2017. Nicolas Roeg, the British film director, died aged 90. The extrovert Lady Trumpington, who retired from the Lords only last year, died aged 96.

Russia seized two Ukrainian gunboats and a tug that were sailing into the Kerch Strait, the only route for ships to enter the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea. The vessels were held in the port of Kerch and 24 sailors taken prisoner, some being paraded on television. Ukraine declared martial law in border regions. The UN Security Council met. The Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate at the Estadio Monumental in the Belgrano district of Buenos Aires was postponed indefinitely amid violence. French people rioted in protest at diesel prices. Bernardo Bertolucci, the Italian film director, died aged 77.

Nasa landed a new robot on Mars, the InSight probe, to study the deep interior of the planet by seismometry. Indian officials found difficulty in retrieving the body of a missionary killed by tribesmen on North Sentinel Island in the Andaman archipelago.                  CSH

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