The UK was hit by a series of storms, resulting in widespread flooding. Storms Eva, Desmond and Frank caused floods in Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Northern Ireland and Aberdeenshire, causing evacuations and power cuts. The government said on 5 January that 16,000 houses had been flooded, while more than 20,000 had been protected by flood defences. The chairman of the Environment Agency, Sir Philip Dilley, was criticised for being on Holiday in Barbados (his wife comes from the Caribbean) during the floods, and subsequently resigned.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn reshuffled the shadow cabinet. The former Shadow Culture Secretary, Michael Dugher, was the first to go, saying that he was sacked because he had decided to “speak out” for colleagues whose reputations were being “systematically trashed”. Maria Eagle, who had opposed Corbyn on the renewal of Trident, was moved to Culture to take his place, while the unilateralist Emily Thornberry, who was accused of snobbery during a by-election campaign in Rochester, took up the Defence brief. Pat McFadden was sacked from his role as Europe Secretary over what shadow Chancellor John McDonnell called “issues about loyalty”, prompting Foreign Office minister Stephen Doughty to resign live on the BBC. Labour accused the broadcaster of setting up the resignation “to ensure maximum news and political impact”, which the BBC denied. Hillary Benn kept his position as shadow Foreign Secretary, despite some expecting him to be sacked after he supported the government instead of his own leader on bombing ISIS in Syria.
Junior Doctors went on strike on 12 January after talks aimed at resolving a contract dispute broke down. 3,300 operations were cancelled and 4,000 routine treatments postponed, but emergency cover was provided. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander criticised the government’s “shambolic” handling of the strike, saying “we understand why they [junior doctors] feel they have no other option”. The race is now on to come to an agreement before a planned 48-hour strike on 26 January, and beyond that an all-out strike on 10 February, when no emergency cover from junior doctors will be provided.
In entertainment, musician David Bowie and actor Alan Rickman, who famously played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, have both died. A crowd gathered at a mural in Brixton, south London, where Bowie grew up, some laying flowers and singing some of his hits. James Phelps, who played Fred Weasley, described Rickman as “one of the nicest actors I’ve ever met”.
The Iraqi army, along with Sunni Tribesmen, retook the city of Ramadi from ISIS. The militant group’s surprise capture of the city in May was seen as a major embarrassment for the security forces, but now that it is back in government hands optimism is growing that the second city of Mosul can be retaken by the end of this year. The victory has been partly attributed to the adoption of conventional warfare training and tactics by the Iraqi forces. They had previously been better prepared for a counter insurgency campaign. The battle took several weeks, though government forces were able to exclude the heavily Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces, who could have made them unpopular with the predominately Sunni population of Ramadi.
Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shia Cleric and government critic Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, along with forty-six others. The move sparked protests from Shia communities within the Kingdom, in Bahrain, Iraq and even in Indian-administered Kashmir. In Iran, the supreme leader Ayatollah Al-Khomeini said that Saudi Arabia would face “divine revenge” and protesters stormed the Saudi embassy. The government of Bahrain backed the kingdom, while Iraq offered to act as a mediator. Iran and Saudi Arabia back different sides in conflicts both in Syria and Yemen, and this new deterioration in relations between the two major regional powers is seen as a blow to efforts to find peaceful solutions to the Middle East’s wars.
The UNHCR reported that over a million migrants crossed into Europe by sea in 2015, up from 216,000 in 2014. Most of the new arrivals crossed from Turkey to Greece, and about half came from war-torn Syria. 3,735 died or went missing attempting the crossing.
Police in Cologne received over 560 criminal complaints, about 45% of which were accusations of sexual assault, after attacks by a group of men outside Cologne Station on New Year’s Eve. The men, who seem to have been mostly of North African origin, appear to have planned a coordinated attack including robberies and rape. The media seemed slow to report on the incident, prompting allegations of a cover-up, and Cologne’s mayor also drew criticism after advising women to keep at “arm’s length” from strangers. Demonstrations started on 9 January, some of which were organised by women’s rights activists, and others by right-wing groups who blamed the attacks on Germany’s immigration policy, which has seen 1.1 million asylum seekers arrive in the country in 2015. Counter-demonstrations were also held against the anti-immigration rallies, whilst Muslims also expressed their opposition to the attacks. In response, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed making it easier to deport criminals.