With the UK under lockdown, witnessing increasing numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings has dominated the news cycle and discussions on social media for the past two days. Cummings was accused of violating lockdown rules in the UK when it was revealed that he drove approximately 419 kms, from London to County Durham, after his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms.
Who is Dominic Cummings?
For comparison, Dominic Cummings is Boris Johnson’s chief advisor, in a role similar to that of Jared Kushner In Donald Trump’s presidency in the US. According to a BBC profile, Cummings is more than just a political advisor to the Johnson and the UK government’s agendas under Johnson have been largely shaped by Cummings on everything from “pushing for an election last year to be fought on a ‘Get Brexit Done’ ticket” to “focussing on winning seats in Labour heartlands, something no previous Tory leader had managed to do in decades”.
According to the BBC profile, he was also the key person behind the planning and the execution of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, whose strategies helped witness the fruition of the Brexit referendum. Many people at Downing Street, the BBC reports, are also loyal supporters, including Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove. To lose Cummings for any reason, including any controversies related to his violation of lockdown rules, would be a big loss for Johnson and his government.
What is this controversy about?
Cummings has faced criticism, including calls for his resignation this week following reports that he violated COVID-19 lockdown rules in the UK. Cummings has denied that he violated rules and has stated that he will not be resigning from his role in the government.
It was reported that Cummings had travelled with his wife and family from London to Durham, his family home, despite his wife having COVID-19 symptoms.
Newspapers and social media in the UK have been flooded with criticism of Cummings, along with accusations of attempting to look for loopholes in the law to evade accountability for the violation of lockdown rules. Social media users have also shared their own stories of how they have been unable to visit family and loved ones, including those who were unwell or on their deathbed due to these lockdown rules, only to see a senior government official violate those very rules without any regard or repentance.
Cummings’ violations comes after PM Boris Johnson had addressed the UK on March 18 saying everyone was expected to follow government advice to stay home for 14 days if they believed that they developed COVID-19 symptoms, including children, who should not be left with grandparents and other vulnerable people if any family member developed symptoms. The government further advised people not to leave their home to travel elsewhere or to another home, with the exception of essential travel.
Days after Boris Johnson announced that he had contracted Covid-19 along with other members of his staff, Cummings confirmed on March 28 that he too had been infected. It was then announced by Durham Police that Cummings had been staying in his family home and had travelled from London to the city.
Over the next few days, neighbours of the Cummings family in Durham reported seeing Cummings and his family out and about, including travelling to the nearby town of Barnard Castle and walking along the river on April 12. Cummings continued defending his behaviour and was back at work at Downing Street soon after. Lockdown restrictions were partially lifted in the UK by mid-May when The Guardian and The Daily Mirror broke the news of Cummings’ violations and the trip to Durham.
How has Downing Street responded?
After reports emerged of these lockdown violations by Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his chief adviser, claiming Cummings had “acted reasonably and legally”. Many observers say Johnson’s defence of Cummings is not unexpected because of the influence and power the chief adviser exerts.
The uproar forced Cummings to address the criticism in what the BBC called an “unprecedented” press conference that was held at Downing Street. Cummings defended his actions, saying he didn’t not regret his actions and they he travelled to his family home in Durham for his four-year-old son’s welfare. “The situation I was in was exceptional circumstances. I think I behaved reasonably,” he said at the press conference.
Videos emerged and were rapidly shared of a UK reporter confronting Cummings over video, saying his actions did not look good, to which he responded, “Who cares about good looks? “It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.”
Following the uproar, Downing Street accused The Guardian and The Daily Mirror of writing inaccurate stories about Cummings. Across the political spectrum in the UK, including members of Boris Johnson’s own party, there have been growing calls to investigate the matter.
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