UK’s Johnson struggles to shift attention from aide’s trip

The British government faced accusations of hypocrisy on Saturday after the revelation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings, traveled more than 400 kilometers to his parents’ house during a nationwide lockdown while he was showing coronavirus symptoms. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Short Url
Updated 25 May 2020

UK’s Johnson struggles to shift attention from aide’s trip

  • Conservative leader Johnson is standing by adviser Dominic Cummings, who drove 400 kilometers from his London home
  • Many Britons saw the trip as a clear breach of the government’s national “stay at home” order, introduced on March 23

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to announce further lockdown-easing measures were being overshadowed Monday by an outcry over the movements of a senior aide who allegedly flouted restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Conservative leader Johnson is standing by adviser Dominic Cummings, who drove 400 kilometers from his London home to his parents’ house while he was infected with the virus.
Johnson said Cummings “followed the instincts of every father and every parent,” traveling so that extended family could care for his 4-year-old son if he and his wife both fell ill.
But many Britons saw the trip as a clear breach of the government’s national “stay at home” order, introduced on March 23. Cummings was heckled with calls of “hypocrite” as he returned to his London home Sunday after spending the day in 10 Downing St.
Stephen Reicher, a social psychologist who sits on a group advising the government, said “more people are going to die” because the episode would undermine adherence to the lockdown rules.
Several senior Church of England clergy joined in the criticism. Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines said the public had been “lied to, patronized and treated … as mugs.” Bishop of Manchester David Walker tweeted: “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 @churchofengland to work together with them on the pandemic.”
A self-styled political disruptor who disdains the media and civil service, Cummings has been essential to Johnson’s rise to power. He was one of the architects of the successful campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, and orchestrated Brexit champion Johnson’s thumping election victory in December.
Five months on from that triumph, Johnson’s government is facing criticism for its response to a pandemic that has hit Britain harder than any other European country. Britain’s official coronavirus death toll stands at 36,793, the second-highest confirmed total in the world after the United States.
The coronavirus laid low a swath of senior UK officials, including Cummings, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Johnson himself, who spent several days in intensive care at a London hospital in April.
The UK is gradually easing its lockdown, allowing more outdoor recreation and letting some shops and businesses reopen.
But as Johnson gathered his Cabinet on Monday to discuss plans to reopen schools and more stores starting June 1, the Cummings scandal showed no signs of dying down.
Ominously for Johnson, a growing number of Conservative lawmakers have joined the opposition in criticizing Cummings. Member of Parliament Paul Maynard said the aide’s actions were “a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ … It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable.”
The conservative Daily Mail newspaper, usually supportive of Johnson, blared “What planet are they on?” in a headline about Cummings and the prime minister.
In a front-page editorial, the newspaper said “for the good of the government and the nation, Mr. Cummings must resign. Or the prime minister must sack him. No ifs, no buts.”

Related


Ethiopia’s week of unrest sees 239 dead, 3,500 arrested

Updated 08 July 2020

Ethiopia’s week of unrest sees 239 dead, 3,500 arrested

  • Hachalu Hundessa had been a rallying voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking power in 2018
  • PM Abiy swiftly introduced political reforms that also opened the way for long-held ethnic and other grievances in Africa’s second most populous country

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: At least 239 people have been killed and 3,500 arrested in more than a week of unrest in Ethiopia that poses the biggest challenge yet to its Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister.
In the Oromia region, the toll includes 215 civilians along with nine police officers and five militia members, regional police commissioner Mustafa Kedir told the ruling party-affiliated Walta TV on Wednesday.
Officials earlier said 10 people were killed in the capital, Addis Ababa, eight of them civilians, amid outrage after a popular singer was shot dead last Monday.
Hachalu Hundessa had been a rallying voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking power in 2018. Abiy swiftly introduced political reforms that also opened the way for long-held ethnic and other grievances in Africa’s second most populous country.
The military was deployed during the outrage that followed Hachalu’s death.
In remarks last week while wearing a military uniform, Abiy said dissidents he recently extended an offer of peace had “taken up arms” in revolt against the government. He hinted there could be links between this unrest and the killing of the army chief last year as well as the grenade thrown at one of his own rallies in 2018.
The 3,500 arrests have included that of a well-known Oromo activist, Jawar Mohammed, and more than 30 supporters. It is not clear what charges they might face. The Oromo make up Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but had never held the country’s top post until they helped bring Abiy to power.
Local reports have said that in some places ethnic Oromo have attacked ethnic Amhara, and in Shashamane town some people were going home to home checking identity cards and targeting Amhara residents.
Businesses have now begun opening slowly in Oromia after the violence in which several hundred homes in Ethiopia were burned or damaged.
But Ethiopia’s Internet service remains cut, making it difficult for rights monitor and others to track the scores of killings.