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Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Queen Elizabeth II has become the first member of the British royal family to witness a portrait of themselves being unveiled virtually.
With the UK’s government still recommending remote working and social distancing, the 94-year-old monarch joined a video call with artist Miriam Escofet, who appeared to gain approval from her royal model after revealing the artwork.
“I’m glad I’ve had the chance to see it,” the Queen told Escofet on the call, some of which was posted to the Royal Family’s social media channels Saturday. “I hope I’ll see it in real life one day.”

The queen appeared pleased by Escofet’s painting, which was commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Credit: Royal Family/Foreign Commonwealth Office

The portrait depicts the Queen sat on a gilded chair in a blue knee-length dress. An 18th-century painting of her great-great-great-grandmother Queen Charlotte, George III’s wife, is visible in the background, while a cup of tea can be seen on the table next to her.

The virtual unveiling was hosted by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which commissioned the artwork. In a press statement, Escofet described the assignment as a “huge honor,” adding: “I wanted the portrait to capture Her Majesty’s humanity, her radiance and her warmth, which came through so strongly in the two portrait sittings.”

Speaking to The Guardian, the artist said that the Queen seemed to react “very positively,” and had even quipped about the tea cup appearing to be empty.

“She was smiling, asking how long it took and if I had any more projects on the go after this,” Escofet told the paper, which reported that the portrait took seven months to complete. “When I explained certain elements of the painting, the tea cup, she made some amusing comments. She said, ‘but there’s no tea in the cup.'”

Britain’s ‘best diplomat’

Escofet, who was born in Spain but moved to the UK as a child, is best known for winning Britain’s most prestigious portraiture prize, the BP Portrait Award, in 2018. She won the accolade for a painting of her own mother, entitled “An Angel at my Table.”
The new royal portrait is set to greet visitors at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, a new ministry formed by the merging of the FCO and the Department for International Development that will take place in September. Following the unveiling, the call’s host Sir Simon McDonald, permanent under-secretary of the FCO and head of the UK’s diplomatic service, described the event as “unique.”

Related video: How do you fall in love with art?

“Her Majesty The Queen is our best diplomat,” he said in a press statement. “This beautiful new portrait is a tribute to her lifetime of service and we’re glad our many visitors will see it for years to come.”

The call also served as a chance for the FCO to brief the head of state on its responses to Covid-19, including vaccine development, securing PPE for frontline workers and assisting British travelers overseas. The monarch, whose son Prince Charles contracted the virus in March, praised the department for “doing the most incredible work,” while commending its ability to redeploy resources to help fight the pandemic.

Artist Miriam Escofet and Sir Simon McDonald unveil the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, before others on the call offered updates on the UK government's response to Covid-19.

Artist Miriam Escofet and Sir Simon McDonald unveil the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, before others on the call offered updates on the UK government’s response to Covid-19. Credit: Royal Family/Foreign Commonwealth Office

“I always thought it was amazing how quickly your colleagues could adapt,” she told McDonald.

The Queen has already demonstrated her willingness to carry out her duties virtually. Earlier this month, the royal family released footage of a video call she held with members of the armed forces.

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A Tory MP Has Branded His Government’s Decision On Trans Rights A “Crushing Disappointment”

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Trade Secretary and Women and Equalities minister Liz Truss (Credit: PA)


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A Tory MP has branded the government’s decision to row back on plans to reform transgender rights “a crushing disappointment”.

Crispin Blunt tabled an urgent question in the Commons on Thursday after ministers dropped plans to allow trans people to self-identify under reforms to the Gender Recognition Act,.

He said women and equalities minister Liz Truss, who is also the trade secretary, had presented MPs with “an inherently unstable settlement that will have to be addressed hopefully sooner rather than later” and that delays in its release had contributed to upset in the trans community.

“Does she appreciate that trans people cannot discern any strong or coherent reason for this screeching change of direction?” he added.

“Does she understand the anger at the prospect of them receiving their fundamental rights being snatched away?

“The longer this uncertainty has been allowed to continue, the worse the fear and anger have become.”

The Conservative backbencher said the contrast in both Ms Truss’s reputation across her twin briefs and her work on equalities compared to that of her predecessor Penny Mordaunt was “horribly stark”. 

“I welcome and enjoy the dynamism of my right honourable friend, that she brings to her unprecedented historic responsibilities in retaking control of British trade policy after nearly half a century,” he said.

“The command of technical, economic and legal detail required is at once intimidating and inspiring. As a great trading nation, it commands all her attention and she has risen to the trade challenge.

“The prime minister has done her, and the nation, no favours by continuing to overburden her after the election at such an extraordinary time for trade.”

He added: “Does she see that the underlying trend of the majority of people in this country is following the path set by a change of attitude in society a generation earlier towards those with different sexualities?

“And the vast majority, the vast, vast majority of LGBT people will stand in solidarity with trans people. Does she appreciate that this statement does not command a majority in this House?”

But fellow Tory MP Ben Bradley defended Ms Truss, accusing Mr Blunt of being “way out on a limb”.

He wrote on Twitter: [In my opinion], most colleagues welcome the compromise where can make things administratively easier for trans people, whilst still taking a good look at the implications of education, healthcare and treatments.”

He added that Ms Truss had found a “fair balance” in her response, and that any issues with the approach stems from the “previous administration massively overpromising” on potential changes to the process.

Under the government’s plans, the need for a Gender Recognition Certificate for a person to legally change sex will remain the same, but the process will be “modernised” and the cost reduced.

Ms Truss said the government is “also taking action to ensure transgender people can access the appropriate healthcare they need”.

Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, Marsha de Cordova, said minsters had “let trans people down…after three years of toxic debate”.

Ms Truss said she believed the “right conclusion” had been reached to ensure “proper checks and balances” in the system and that the government’s proposals were “in line with other major nations”.

“We believe in individual liberty and in the humanity and dignity of every person,” she added.

“It is my view that the balance struck in the existing legislation is correct.”

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Dreamworld accident: Australian theme park fined over four deaths

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image copyrightAlamy

image caption(L-R) Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozbeh Araghi and Cindy Low died in 2016

The operator of Australia’s Dreamworld theme park has been fined A$3.6m (£2m; $2.5m) over the deaths of four people on a malfunctioning water ride.

Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozbeh Araghi and Cindy Low died in October 2016 when their raft crashed into another and overturned, crushing them.

Park operator Ardent Leisure admitted in July to breaching safety laws.

The company said it accepted responsibility and had worked to improve safety standards.

The four victims – all adults – died almost instantly after the Thunder River Rapids Ride rafts collided, an inquiry heard in 2018. Two children were also on board but survived.

The accident at Australia’s biggest theme park was caused by a pump that malfunctioned near the end of the ride.

On Monday, a court said the company had failed in its duty of care and should have taken steps to make the ride safer.

“Steps were not that complex or burdensome and only mildly inconvenient and really were inexpensive,” Magistrate Pamela Dowse said.

“They operated the most iconic amusement park in the country, which targeted and attracted families.

“There was complete and blind trust placed in the defendant by every guest who rode the Thunder River Rapids Ride.”

image copyrightCORONERS COURT OF QUEENSLAND
image captionThe raft carrying passengers flipped in the collision

The size of the fine reflected the severity of the company’s failure, she added. Ardent had been facing a maximum A$4.5m fine.

Chief executive John Osborne said: “Ardent accepts responsibility for this tragedy, and we fully accept the consequences.”

Families of the victims also delivered statements to the sentencing court on Monday, expressing grief and anger over their loss.

  • Australia theme park admits guilt over ride deaths

“That Cindy died violently is unacceptable to us,” said Helen Cook, aunt to Ms Low. “Knowing her death could have been avoided is unacceptable and infuriating.”

In February, a coroner found the accident had been “only a matter of time” as the theme park had not properly assessed the ride’s safety risk in over 30 years.

Dreamworld briefly shut down for six weeks after the accident in 2016, during which it demolished the ride.

The company has reported operating losses every year since the accident, including more than A$260m in losses in its theme park division.

It is also fighting a class action from shareholders who claim the company misled them on the park’s safety measures.

Related Topics

  • Theme parks

  • Queensland
  • Australia

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Swiss voters clearly reject curbs on EU immigration

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The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) had forced a binding referendum on the EU agreement in a bid to curb immigration to the country where foreigners make up a quarter of the population.

The measure lost by 62%-38% margin.

The SVP – the biggest party in parliament – has long pushed to take back control of immigration, echoing some arguments pro-Brexit politicians used in the run-up to Britain’s exit from the EU. It won a referendum on the issue in 2014, only to see parliament water down its implementation.

Opponents said the plan would have robbed business of skilled workers and torpedoed accords that enhance non-EU member Switzerland’s access to the crucial EU single market.

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, the referendum could have forced the government to annul the EU agreement if negotiations did not produce a deal on ending the pact voluntarily, something Brussels has ruled out.

A “guillotine clause” meant that ending free movement would have toppled other bilateral pacts on land and air transport, procurement, technical barriers to trade, and research.

Around two-thirds of the 2.1 million foreigners living in Switzerland in 2019 were citizens of the EU, as well as Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which with Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

More than 450,000 Swiss live in the EU.

The domestic political battle immediately turned to Switzerland’s biggest foreign policy headache: a stalled treaty meant to cement ties with the EU but which critics say infringes too much on Swiss sovereignty and would never win a referendum.

The treaty would have Bern routinely adopt single market rules and create a new platform to resolve disputes.

With questions open over state aid, rules to protect high Swiss wages, and access to welfare benefits, the Swiss have dragged their feet while trying to forge a domestic consensus, triggering a row over cross-border stock trading.

Amid relatively high turnout, voters narrowly blocked an attempt to make it easier to shoot wolves deemed a threat to livestock.

In an unexpectedly close vote, they approved the government’s plans to buy new fighter jets for up to 6 billion Swiss francs ($6.46 billion).

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