Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Brexit party surges in polls, WhatsApp is hacked and Doris Day dies

18 May 2019

9:00 AM

18 May 2019

9:00 AM


Theresa May, the Prime Minister, said that the EU withdrawal bill would be introduced in the Commons in the first week of June (just when President Donald Trump of the United States is making his state visit). If parliament did not vote for it, Britain would leave without an agreement, or its notice to leave under Article 50 would be revoked. Parliament sat for its 301st day, the longest session since the Long Parliament in the English Civil War. Olly Robbins, the civil servant who is chief negotiator for exiting the European Union, was sent to Brussels for no clear reason. May had a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, after the cabinet agreed to let talks with Labour on Brexit continue. Thirteen former cabinet ministers and Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, wrote to May, warning her not to agree with Labour a customs union after Brexit. Brian Walden, the television interviewer and a Labour MP from 1964 to 1977, died aged 86.

The Conservatives pondered cataclysmic opinion polls for the European Union elections on 23 May. A survey by Opinium for the Observer put Nigel Farage’s Brexit party on 34 per cent — more than Labour (21 per cent) and the Tories (11 per cent) combined. The Conservatives did not publish a manifesto for the elections. Many MPs (at least 16 by this week) proposed themselves for the future leadership of the Conservative party, but none grasped the nettle of ousting the Prime Minister. The new Change UK party, which favours the EU, refused to ruffle the waters and painted a message on the side of a white coach in small black letters: ‘For a People’s Vote for Remain Vote Change UK.’ The government suddenly said it would meet the £200 million bill to replace cladding of the sort used at Grenfell Tower on about 150 private high-rise blocks in England. James Brokenshire, the Housing Secretary, was criticised by some for having four ovens in his kitchen.

A ‘select number of users’ of WhatsApp had been hacked, its owners Facebook said; the Financial Times reported that software used for the hacking had been developed by the NSO Group, an Israeli cyber-security company. Vodafone reported a £6.6 billion full-year loss and cut its dividends. India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, bought Hamleys, which has 167 toyshops but lost £9.2 million last year. Growth in the UK economy rose to 0.5 per cent in the first quarter, up from 0.2 per cent in the last quarter of 2018. ITV permanently cancelled the Jeremy Kyle Show when a guest died shortly after filming. Police said that since the sentencing of a scooter crime gang of 12, the leader of whom was jailed for 13 years, crime committed on scooters in London had declined by 52 per cent. A warehouse on the North Circular Road at Staples Corner, Neasden, burnt down.


As the United States sent warships to the Persian Gulf, Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, said: ‘Our aim is not war. Our aim is a change in the behaviour of the Iranian leadership.’ American investigators blamed Iran for using explosives to damage four ships off the United Arab Emirates on 12 May. A jury in Oakland, California, awarded more than $2 billion to a couple who said that the weedkiller Roundup was responsible for their cancer. An American explorer, Victor Vescovo, set a record by descending 35,997 feet to the bottom of the Marianas Trench in the Pacific.

Washington doubled duties on $200 billion of Chinese goods; China responded with tariffs on $60 billion of US goods. A man was arrested in eastern China after admitting on the mobile messenger WeChat to giving his dogs ‘illegal’ names — Chengguan and Xieguan, types of minor officials. Zimbabwe said it had sold 97 elephants to China and Dubai because it had too many. Doris Day, the star of Calamity Jane (1953), died aged 97.

Houthi troops began to withdraw from three ports in Yemen — Hudaydah, Salif and Ras Issa — crucial to the supply of food relief. North Korea demanded the return of the cargo ship the Wise Honest, seized by America for breaking sanctions by transporting coal. Cuba announced rationing of more goods, blaming it on the American trade embargo and hoarders. Alabama passed a law against abortion in almost all cases. Israeli police arrested a man suspected of poisoning eight of the 20 remaining griffon vultures in the occupied Golan Heights.            CSH

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