Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Harry and Meghan quit, America avoids war and the Labour leadership race begins

18 January 2020

9:00 AM

18 January 2020

9:00 AM


The Queen agreed to ‘a period of transition’ during which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would spend time in Canada and Britain. The Queen had summoned a family conference at Sandringham five days after the Sussexes issued a statement saying: ‘After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as “senior” members of the royal family and work to become financially independent.’ Since the plan had not been agreed with the Queen or the Prince of Wales, royal incandescence tended towards the white end of the spectrum.The Duchess flew off to Canada to rejoin the dogs. It emerged that evidence from the Duchess’s father, Thomas Markle, would be used by the Mail on Sunday in its defence against a case brought by her about the publication of a letter.

After three years, the Northern Ireland Assembly sat again, with a power-sharing executive in which Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, became first minister, and Michelle O’Neill, the vice-president of Sinn Féin, deputy first minister. A formal agreement undertook to recognise the Irish language and the pretended language of Ulster-Scots. An official report found that a police investigation in Manchester in 2003 into abuse of ‘a significant number of children in the care system by predominantly Asian men’ had been prematurely closed down, despite 97 suspects and 57 children at risk being identified. The GDP of the United Kingdom fell by 0.3 per cent in November. Flybe, the UK’s biggest regional airline, struggled to survive. John Bercow, the former Speaker of the Commons, was found to have claimed £1,000 in expenses in April for a taxi to Nottingham and back.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was given its third reading by the Commons by 330 to 231 votes and passed peacefully to the Lords. It provides for a transition period of 11 months after the United Kingdom leaves the EU on January 31. Ursula von der Leyen, who succeeded Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission, said it would be impossible to reach a comprehensive trade deal by the end of the year. After meeting her at Downing Street, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said that the negotiations would not be extended. Clive Lewis withdrew from the contest for the leadership of the Labour party, leaving five contenders, including Emily Thornberry, who scraped in with enough nominations ten minutes before the deadline. Sir Roger Scruton, the conservative philosopher, died aged 75.


After three days of denials, Iran admitted it had brought down a passenger aircraft near Tehran airport with the loss of all 176 on board. Brigadier-General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the aerospace commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said that a missile operator had mistaken the aircraft for a cruise missile. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, which lost 57 citizens, said he was ‘outraged and furious’. The British ambassador to Iran was arrested after attending a vigil for the dead and held for three hours; Britain demanded an apology. In Iran, crowds demonstrated angrily in the streets once the truth about the aircraft was admitted. Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman died aged 79, having reigned since 1970, when he deposed his father; he was succeeded by a cousin, Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, aged 65.

On the 38th day of strikes in opposition to the pension reforms of President Emmanuel Macron of France, the Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, offered to withdraw plans to raise the pension age from 62 to 64. The leaders of the two main sides in Libya’s civil war flew to Moscow for talks. In the Philippines planes were grounded after the eruption of Taal volcano, 45 miles south of Manila. An Ethiopian Airlines flight from Djibouti was diverted to Addis Ababa after running into locusts.

Tsai Ing-wen, who opposes closer ties with China, won a second term as President of Taiwan, with 57 per cent of the vote. Jiangsu province in China announced that only 17 people in its population of 80 million were poor. Preliminary tests indicated that an outbreak of pneumonia in the city of Wuhan might be caused by a new kind of coronavirus. As bush fires continued, thousands of feral camels in South Australia were shot dead from helicopters; large groups had begun roaming towns looking for water.             CSH

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