Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: More Brexit chaos, royal complaints and Syrian fighting

26 October 2019

9:00 AM

26 October 2019

9:00 AM


The Commons voted by 329 to 299 for a Brexit Withdrawal Bill but then stymied progress by defeating a timetable for enacting it by 31 October. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, immediately favoured a delay for Brexit. Downing Street called for a general election. Sir Oliver Letwin had torpedoed the government’s Brexit endeavours by amending a motion that had been intended to secure the Commons’ ‘meaningful vote’ for the withdrawal agreement triumphantly secured from the EU by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, only three days earlier. The Commons, sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War of 1982, voted by 322 to 306 in favour of Sir Oliver’s amendment, which stipulated that the House would not approve the agreement until legislation had been passed to bring it into British law. The government had already lost the support of the DUP, which was angered by provisions in the withdrawal agreement that imposed different customs and VAT arrangements on Northern Ireland from those elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Letwin vote obliged Boris Johnson to send off a letter to the EU under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 — the Benn Act — requesting a delay of Brexit until 31 January. The letter was sent with a covering letter from the ambassador to the EU but deliberately without the Prime Minister’s signature. Instead he sent a third letter, which declared that ‘a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners’. George King-Thompson, from Oxford, who climbed the 1,017ft Shard in July, was detained in a young offender institution for six months after admitting being in contempt of court in making the climb.

While parliament was sitting, hundreds of thousands demonstrated outside in favour of the People’s Vote campaign, ostensibly in favour of another referendum on Brexit, though many demonstrators called for an end to Brexit. John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, disallowed a motion put down by the government two days later that embodied Saturday’s motion without Sir Oliver’s amendment. He called the motion ‘repetitive and disorderly’, relying on a convention that he had used to disallow the re-running of a ‘meaningful vote’ by Theresa May on 18 March. Unionist parties brought about a session of the Northern Ireland Assembly (which had not sat since January 2017), in an attempt to prevent the imposition by Westminster of a law legalising abortion; but nothing could be done in the absence of SDLP agreement; Westminster also imposed same-sex marriage on the province.

The Financial Conduct Authority had no plans to hold an investigation into the collapse of Neil Woodford’s investment funds. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex went on television to complain. The Duchess said that friends had warned her not to marry him, ‘because the British tabloids will destroy your life’. The Duke said of his mental health: ‘I thought I was out of the woods and then suddenly it all came back.’ For good measure a Kensington Palace source has told the BBC that there was a view that the Sussexes were ‘in a fragile place’ and that the Duke of Cambridge was ‘worried’ about his younger brother.


Members of the joint Russian and Turkish forces patrolled a strip of northern Syria, urging Kurdish forces to withdraw from the territory after a five-day pause in fighting agreed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Mike Pence, the American Vice-President. In Egypt 30 carved and painted wooden coffins from around 1,000 bc were discovered near Luxor.

Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist acting prime minister of Spain, made a brief visit to Barcelona after seven nights of protests against the jailing of pro-independence politicians, but he refused to meet Quim Torra, the Catalan head of government. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, held on to power but lost his majority in elections. The anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP) won the elections with 53 seats in the 200-seat National Council, with the Socialists getting 39, the Liberals 29, the Greens 28 and the Green Liberals 16.

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese demonstrated against corruption, power cuts and a tax on WhatsApp calls. At least 11 people were killed in protests in Chile provoked by living costs, such as metro fares. After a sustained gun battle in Culiacán in the state of Sinaloa, Mexican police let go Ovidio Guzmán, the son of the former head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán.            CSH

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