A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a remote press conference to update the nation on the Covid-19 pandemic, May 24, 2020. (AFP)

Scientists, JK Rowling pan UK PM for defending aide who broke lockdown rules

As the storm rose across Britain, including in usually Conservative supporting sections and tabloids, PM Boris Johnson insisted on Sunday evening that Cummings had done no wrong, defying many who sought the aide’s resignation.


Writer JK Rowling, bishops and top scientists on a key government committee joined millions across the United Kingdom to express fury at Prime Minister Boris Johnson defending his chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who breached lockdown rules in end-March.

Cummings, who has been close to Johnson since the successful Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum, travelled to Durham in north-east England with his family when the official advice followed by Britons was to ‘stay home’, prompting accusations that there is one rule for those in power and another for others.

The Johnson government has been grappling with growing number of coronavirus cases and deaths due to Covid-19. As of Sunday evening, there were 36,793 deaths and 259,559 cases across the UK.

As the storm rose across the country, including in usually Conservative supporting sections and tabloids, Johnson insisted on Sunday evening that Cummings had done no wrong, defying many who sought the aide’s resignation.

More than 10 bishops said Johnson’s defence of Cummings was “risible”, that he had “no respect for the people”, “lacked integrity”, and risked undermining the trust of the public. Pete Broadbent, the bishop of Willesden, tweeted: “Johnson has now gone the full Trump.”

As police chiefs said it would now be difficult to enforce curbs, at least three experts -- Stephen Reicher, Robert West and Susan Michie - on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies influencing government moves on the coronavirus pandemic deplored Johnson’s remarks.

Reicher said: “If you look at the research it shows the reason why people observed lockdown was not for themselves, it wasn’t because they were personally at risk, they did it for the community, they did it because of a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.”

“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”, he said.

Closely following the government response to the pandemic, writer Rowling tweeted: “Watching Johnson, This is despicable. Parents all over this country have abided by the lockdown rules, even while ill themselves. Hundreds of thousands managed toddlers while shut up inside cramped accommodation, purely for the common good AS THE GOVERNMENT TOLD THEM TO DO”.

“I can’t remember a clearer demonstration of contempt for the people from a sitting Prime Minister. Johnson might as well had shambled into shot, give us all the finger and walked off again”, she added.

Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon added: “I fear, and I say this with a heavy heart, Boris Johnson is putting his political interest ahead of the public interest. And when trust in a public health message and public health advice is as important as it is right now the consequences of that could be serious”.