Portrait of the week

Portrait of the year: From May to a December election

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

21 December 2019

9:00 AM


‘If parliament backs a deal, Britain can turn a corner,’ Theresa May, the Prime Minister, said. The Commons defeated her withdrawal agreement with the EU by 432 to 202. Patrols found 15 people on inflatable craft off Kent. The Argentine footballer, Emiliano Sala, 28, died when a light aircraft crashed into the Channel. Off Libya and Morocco, 170 migrants drowned in two shipwrecks. Patisserie Valerie went into administration. US President Donald Trump refused to approve a federal budget without funds for a wall with Mexico. A fatberg 210ft long was found blocking a sewer beneath Sidmouth.


Seven MPs resigned from the Labour party, objecting to anti-Semitism and lukewarmness towards a second referendum on Brexit. The 13th weekend of gilets jaunes protests in France ended with factional street fighting in Lyon. Shamima Begum, 19, who had left Bethnal Green in 2015 for a part of Syria controlled by Isis, said she wanted to return to have her baby; the child died in March. President Trump cut short talks with Kim Jong-un of North Korea. A first world war hand grenade was found among French potatoes sent to a crisp factory in Hong Kong.


Mrs May asked the EU to delay Brexit beyond 29 March. The Commons had taken business into its own hands, through an amendment by Sir Oliver Letwin; of eight indicative votes on Brexit, none was passed. Hundreds of thousands marched against Brexit. Teenagers were stabbed to death in London and Manchester. Migrants were picked up in the Channel. The head of the Paris police was replaced after gilets jaunes protesters damaged 92 shops. An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crash was the second for that model in five months. An Australian shot dead 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand. The Pentagon authorised $1 billion for a wall with Mexico.


Nigel Farage launched his Brexit party campaign. Julian Assange, after seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, was arrested at the invitation of the ambassador. Police allowed protesters against climate change to close Waterloo Bridge for a week. Debenhams named 22 stores it was closing. Natural England revoked licences for controlling birds such as crows. Fire destroyed the roof of Notre Dame in Paris. Bombs on Easter Day in Sri Lanka killed 250. The opposition leader Juan Guaidó failed to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela. Ukraine elected as president Volodymyr Zelensky, known for his television role as a man accidentally elected president of Ukraine.


Theresa May announced that she would resign as prime minister. In European Union elections, the Brexit party secured 29 seats; the Conservatives four; Labour ten. Alastair Campbell was expelled from the Labour party after saying he had voted Lib Dem. Washington more than doubled duties on $200 billion of Chinese goods. America blamed Iran for explosions damaging four ships in the Gulf. In Australia, Scott Morrison confounded predictions by winning a majority for his Liberal-National coalition. Quarantine was lifted in Mongolia after two people died of bubonic plague from eating a raw marmot.


President Trump paid a state visit to the United Kingdom. A neighbour of Boris Johnson’s recorded an argument he had with Carrie Symonds, 31, in their flat. The BBC decided to end free television licences for the over 75s in a year’s time. In one day, 74 migrants were intercepted in the Channel. Neil Woodford, a fund manager, suspended trading in his largest fund. Serco, the outsourcing company, was fined £19 million after charging for tagging offenders in prison, abroad or no longer alive. President Trump approved military strikes against Iran, but drew back. Troops fired on protesters in Khartoum. Locusts destroyed 5,000 acres of crops in Sardinia.


Boris Johnson became prime minister, after members elected him leader of the Conservative party. Carl Beech was found guilty of perverting the course of justice by falsely accusing public figures such as Field Marshal Lord Bramall and Harvey Proctor of sexual crimes against boys, and of murder. A record temperature for Britain, 38.7°C (101.7°F), was set in the Botanic Garden, Cambridge. Off Gibraltar, Royal Marines helped arrest an Iranian ship suspected of breaking EU sanctions by taking oil to Syria. Iran captured a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf.


A power cut affected one million. Some  336 migrants were found trying to cross the Channel. England won the third Ashes Test after a nail-biting partnership between Stokes and Leach. India ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Some 1.7 million marched peacefully in Hong Kong. Gibraltar released Iran’s tanker, which did sail to Syria. America threatened again to raise tariffs on Chinese imports. President Trump said he wanted to buy Greenland.


A Bill sponsored by Hilary Benn and Alistair Burt was passed to make the Prime Minister send a letter to the European Council requesting the deadline for Britain leaving the EU be extended until 31 January if MPs could not agree on Brexit. Boris Johnson said: ‘I’d rather be dead in a ditch.’ The whip was removed from 21 Tory MPs who voted against the government. Eleven justices of the Supreme Court ruled that in advising the Queen to prorogue parliament from 10 September until 14 October ‘the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect’. Sarah Thomas, 37, swam the Channel four times, non-stop, in 54 hours. President Trump sacked his National Security Adviser John Bolton. Iran attacked plants in Saudi Arabia, disrupting half its oil production. Robert Mugabe died, aged 95. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, regretted ever assuming blackface make-up by way of fancy dress.


Parliament sat on a Saturday, only for Sir Oliver Letwin to torpedo Brexit endeavours. The Commons later voted for a Brexit withdrawal Bill, then refused to enact it by 31 October. A letter went to the EU asking for a delay, deliberately left unsigned by the Prime Minister. Eventually, he persuaded the Commons to vote for a general election on 12 December. Extinction Rebellion pitched tents for days  in Whitehall. The bodies of 39 people from Vietnam were found frozen in a lorry in Essex. John Henry Newman was canonised. President Trump said that America would pull troops out of north-east Syria; Turkey invaded territory there occupied by Kurdish forces. Nine Catalan politicians were jailed by Spain for at least nine years for plotting secession. Francisco Franco was exhumed from the Valley of the Fallen. John Bercow resigned as Speaker.


The Duke of York decided to ‘step back from public duties’ after making an embarrassing television explanation of his connection with the sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein. Sir Lindsay Hoyle was elected Speaker, succeeding John Bercow. The Chief Rabbi declared that anti-Semitism was a ‘poison — sanctioned from the very top’ of the Labour party. An Islamist terrorist stabbed two people to death at London Bridge and was shot dead by police. Uber was again denied a licence by Transport for London to operate taxis. Six boats with 74 migrants crossed the Channel in a week. Hundreds of houses were flooded in Yorkshire. Mothercare called in administrators. Protests in Hong Kong grew more violent. China’s Jingye Group bought British Steel. A ship carrying 14,000 sheep capsized off the Black Sea coast.


Boris Johnson won a landslide for the Conservatives, who secured 365 seats, with Labour managing 203. Even Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover since 1970, lost to the Tories. The Lib Dem total went down from 12 in 2017 to 11, and Jo Swinson, its leader, lost her seat; the SNP took 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats. President Trump visited London for a Nato summit, where President Emmanuel Macron of France and Justin Trudeau laughed at him behind his back. The Democrat-dominated House of Representatives Judiciary Committee drew up articles of impeachment against Mr Trump. About 25,000 people from all over the world travelled to Madrid to complain about climate change. More than 50,000 teddy bears from China with loose eyes were destroyed at Felixstowe. CSH


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