UK minister quits over PM aide’s lockdown breach row; some shops to open
After chief adviser Dominic Cummings travelled over 260 miles from London to Durham in violation of official advice in March-end after he and his wife had coronavirus symptoms, plans to reopen some shops and markets from June 1 were overshadowed.Updated: May 26, 2020 20:40 IST
The row over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser breaching lockdown rules continued to bedevil the government as a junior minister resigned in protest on Tuesday and several ruling Conservative MPs and others reiterated their demand that he step down or be sacked.
The story of chief adviser Dominic Cummings travelling over 260 miles from London to Durham in violation of official advice in March-end after he and his wife had coronavirus symptoms overshadowed plans to reopen some shops and markets from June 1.
Douglas Ross, minister for Scotland, referred to fury among his constituents over Cummings’ actions in his resignation letter to Johnson, and said questions remained for the aide to answer after he appeared before the news media on Monday evening.
Ross said: “I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government”.
“I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
Attempts by Johnson and Cummings to brazen out the row were met by furious headlines not only in the left-leaning newspapers such as The Guardian and Mirror, but also Conservative-supporting mass circulation tabloids such as the Daily Mail.
Church of England bishops who joined calls for the adviser’s resignation said on Tuesday they had received death threats, as the death toll and number of cases in the UK continued to rise.
Johnson announced partial opening of markets: “Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from 1 June, as soon as they are able to meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines to protect shoppers and workers”.
“All other non-essential retail including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets, will be expected to be able to reopen from 15 June”, he said.
However, the plans were met with doubts if customers would feel confident to return to shops as the threat of pandemic continues to loom and a boom in online shopping. The row over Cummings has also endangered public trust in official advice on dealing with the virus.
Stephen Reicher, expert on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told Sky News: “One of the central messages that we gave to Government, one of the central points that we made was that the way we have gotten through this pandemic to date is by acting together, by thinking in terms of ‘we’, of what’s good for the community”.
“Millions of people up and down the country have done precisely that in very difficult circumstances, agonising circumstances around their families and thought ‘What is good for us as a community?’ I think the real problem here is that not simply in what Cummings did but in the messaging that the Prime Minister put out. The lesson was, forget about the ‘we’, it’s about ‘I’.”
“Now, thank God, the public at large didn’t take that attitude, the public at large, as I say, made those major sacrifices, but it threatens to undermine that sense of community if a figure as prominent as Dominic Cummings and if the Prime Minister himself starts undermining that ‘we’ message and starts talking about ‘I’.”