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Boris’ defence of top aide breaching lockdown causes stir

PTI

London

The furore surrounding top Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings’ perceived breach of the coronavirus stay-at-home lockdown rules by travelling 260 miles to his parents’ home refused to die down on Monday.

The Opposition branded British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s defence of Cummings as an “insult” to all the sacrifices made by the British public during the pandemic, with a growing number of parliamentarians within Johnson’s own Conservative Party calling for his Chief Strategy Adviser to be sacked.

“This was a test of the Prime Minister and he has failed it. It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings,” said Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition Labour Party.

His Indian-origin shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, added: “The Prime Minister confirms it’s one rule for his friends and another rule for the rest of us. All that sacrifice, stress and pain. What an insult.”

Acting Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey said sacking Cummings was a must to restore credibility around the government’s public health messaging.

“The instruction the Prime Minister gave us all to stay at home has been breached by his top adviser and that’s what you can’t get away from in this story, it’s pretty simple,” he said.

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Johnson of “putting his political interest ahead of the public interest”.

“When trust in a public health message and public health advice is as important as it is right now the consequences could be very serious,” she said.

At the daily Downing Street briefing on Sunday evening, Johnson had thrown his weight behind his chief adviser and declared that he had followed the “instincts of every father” when he made the journey to Durham in north-east England on March 31 to ensure child care for his young son as he began displaying symptoms of coronavirus.

“He acted responsibly, legally and with integrity, and with the overall aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives,” Johnson concluded, after what he said was an “extensive” face-to-face meeting with his top aide.

UK newspapers have reported at least two further allegations of lockdown breaches by his aide, with Johnson saying that “some” of the claims were “palpably false” but refusing to elaborate.

However, besides a flurry of media questions right after, there was also an embarrassing rogue social media message on the official UK Civil Service Twitter account, accusing the UK prime minister of arrogance.

“Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters,” read the Tweet on @UKCivilService – which was taken down after roughly nine minutes but not before it was shared thousands of times.

“An unauthorised tweet was posted on a government channel this evening. The post has been removed and we are investigating the matter,” a UK Cabinet Office statement said.

Even scientists and Church of England bishops are joining the growing criticism against Johnson’s defence of his aide’s actions, which they feel dilutes the government’s central messaging around the coronavirus lockdown.

“Unless very soon we see clear repentance, including the sacking of Cummings, I no longer know how we can trust what ministers say sufficiently for the Church of England to work together with them on the pandemic,” said David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester.

“If you give the impression there’s one rule for them and one rule for us you fatally undermine that sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ and you undermine adherence to the forms of behaviour which have got us through this crisis,” said Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the government’s advisory group on behavioural science.

Meanwhile, Cummings himself was heckled by neighbours at his London home over the weekend, with calls for him to resign caught on camera.

The 48-year-old political strategist has been by Johnson’s side through the Vote Leave campaign leading up to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union (EU) in the June 2016 Brexit referendum as well as his landslide general election victory in December last year with the central message of “Get Brexit Done”.

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