Portrait of the week: government defeat, the spring statement and a fatal airplane crash

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The government was defeated by 149 votes — 391 to 242 — on the EU withdrawal agreement presented by Theresa May, the Prime Minister. In a croaking voice she announced a free vote on leaving without a deal. Mrs May had come back from Strasbourg with two documents: a ‘joint instrument’, or interpretive tool agreed by Britain and the EU on the effect of the Irish backstop, and a 365-word ‘unilateral declaration’ by Britain, not agreed by the EU, asserting the right to take the persistence of the backstop to arbitration. The joint instrument said that the EU shared the UK’s aspirations for ‘alternative arrangements’ concerning the Irish border (such as technological monitoring) to be in place by 31 December 2020. The Commons had sat late on Monday before Mrs May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, even presented the arrangements. His advice to the House of Commons was: ‘It is this deal — or Brexit might not happen at all.’ Overnight, Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, after a week of making jokes about his codpiece, delivered an opinion that the new assurances meant that ‘the legal risk remains unchanged’ (if no agreement with the EU were reached) of the UK having ‘no internationally lawful means’ of leaving the backstop.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented his spring statement, which had been trailed as having extra billions in hand if the EU withdrawal deal had been approved. The John Lewis and Waitrose group saw a fall in profits for the year of 45.4 per cent. Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, apologised for having said in Parliament that, during the Troubles, killings ‘at the hands of the military and police were not crimes, they were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way’. Andrew Hill, the display pilot who crashed a vintage Hawker Hunter jet at the Shoreham Airshow in 2015, killing 11 people, was cleared of manslaughter. Three climbers died and another was injured in an avalanche on Ben Nevis.

Knife crime was found to have risen by 45.7 per cent since 2010 outside London, which had seen an 11 per cent rise; in Kent the rise was 152 per cent. A 17-year-old boy rang 999 to ask for an ambulance after he was stabbed in an alleyway near his school in Ipswich. Dustmen were caught on video urinating against wheelie-bins in an alley in Featherstone, West Yorkshire.

Abroad

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 on board, the second fatal accident involving that model in five months. After two days, Britain joined other countries in banning the aeroplane from its skies. President Emmanuel Macron visited Ethiopia. Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, was found to have been advising Mr Macron on ways to keep Britain in the EU. French customs officials, demanding more pay after Brexit, went on a work to rule at Calais, Gare du Nord and St Pancras station in London, making Eurostar passengers queue for five hours. In Slovenia, police accused a woman of cutting off her hand with a circular saw to make an insurance claim.

The American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces renewed their assault on the town of Baghuz, on the Euphrates near the Iraqi border, the last redoubt of the Islamic State, after more than 7,000 civilians had been evacuated. The death was reported of Jarrah, the son born in a Syrian refugee camp in mid-February to Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old who had left London in 2015 to join the Islamic State and whose British citizenship has been withdrawn. Protesters marched through Algiers after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika postponed elections due on 18 April. America said it would stop sharing intelligence with Germany if it allowed the Chinese company Huawei to participate in its 5G mobile network.

A Malaysian court dropped the case against one of two women charged with the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the brother of Kim Jong-un, the ruler of North Korea, at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Kim Jong-un’s name did not appear among the 687 deputies elected to North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly. Power cuts in Venezuela continued after five days in the ongoing crisis of President Nicolas Maduro’s rule. A UN investigation found that at least 500 people had been killed in December in inter-communal violence near Yumbi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A fire at night destroyed Toi market in Nairobi.   CSH

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