Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Brexit party launches, Assange is arrested – and Notre Dame burns

20 April 2019

9:00 AM

20 April 2019

9:00 AM


Although the latest date for Brexit had been postponed by the European Council until Halloween, 31 October, the government had to confront the prospect of holding elections to the European parliament on 23 May if parliament would not agree to Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement before then. Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said that May should go before those elections, which ‘would be a disaster for the country. What are you going to say on the doorstep — vote for me and I’ll be gone in three months?’. Nigel Farage launched his Brexit party. The House of Commons went into recess until 23 April, St George’s day.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, entertained an audience in the United States with his analysis of the 2016 Conservative leadership contest: ‘Michael Gove and Boris Johnson knifed each other in an unintended suicide pact. Which left just Andrea Leadsom — who? — and Theresa May in the running. And then Andrea Leadsom knifed herself in a private suicide pact and Theresa May inherited the prime ministership without anybody ever casting a single vote for anything.’ David Lammy, a Labour MP, likened the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs to Nazis: ‘I would say that that wasn’t strong enough.’ Legal aid was granted for Shamima Begum, aged 19, who had gone to Syria to join Islamic State in 2015, to challenge the decision to revoke her UK citizenship. A nine-year-old boy was mauled to death by a dog while alone in a caravan at a holiday park in Cornwall.

Julian Assange, who had enjoyed asylum in the embassy of Ecuador in  London for seven years, was arrested by the Metropolitan police at the invitation of the ambassador. He was in breach of bail conditions relating to sexual assault allegations in Sweden. The United States sought his extradition over his activities as co-founder of WikiLeaks. Seventy mainly Labour MPs and peers wrote to Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, urging him to ensure that if Sweden reopened its investigations they should be pursued there rather than Assange being sent to America. ‘I don’t think the streets are safe enough for my own children,’ Javid said in a speech at Bethnal Green in east London. The number in work rose by 179,000. Environmental protesters blocked major roads in central London. The drone attack that closed Gatwick for 33 hours in December was carried out by someone with knowledge of its operational procedures, the airport said.


Fire took hold of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris; the flèche above the crossing, rebuilt by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century, crashed through the roof. In a task expected to last two years, the operator of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station began removing atomic fuel from a building housing one of the reactors that melted after the tsunami of 2011. Australian rugby union authorities sacked Israel Folau after he posted on Instagram a paraphrase of I Corinthians 6:9-10: ‘Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, idolators — hell awaits you.’

General Khalifa Haftar continued his attempt to take Libyan capital Tripoli, with the reported support of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. Protesters remain outside army headquarters in Khartoum, demanding a civilian government for Sudan after the military ousted President Omar al-Bashir. In Algeria, protests continued against interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, who has promised elections on 4 July. President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela announced plans to add a million to the two million in the civilian militia that answers directly to him. A coalition proved hard to form after elections in Finland gave the Social Democratic party 17.7 per cent of the vote, the far-right Finns party 17.5 per cent and the Centre party of the outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila a much reduced vote of 13.8 per cent. Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters, after a gap of 11 years since he won any major golf championship.

European Union countries approved plans for trade talks with the United States to replace the previously mooted Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Israel’s privately funded Beresheet spacecraft crashed into the surface of the moon. Troubled Indian airline Jet Airways suspended international flights. Jack Ma, the Chinese Communist party billionaire co-founder of online shopping company Alibaba, spoke out in defence of a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. working day, six days a week.   CSH

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