A Brief History of Boris Johnson Going on Holiday During a Crisis

From Mustique to Chevening, the prime minister sure knows how to get out of the city.
April 20, 2020, 5:01pm
Boris Johnson leaving Number 10 in March for PMQs; a beach on Mustique
Boris Johnson leaving Number 10 in March for PMQs; a beach on Mustique. Photo: Imageplotter/Alamy Live News and Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Remember holidays? Those lovely trips to Amsterdam with the mates, popping to the Stedjlik before a night out at De School. The nice sojourns to Lisbon, where you can spend your mornings eating warm, pastel de nata and drinking a galão. Or even a little weekend trip to Brighton – fish and chips on the windy seaside before hours spent in the arcades.

Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, holidaying right now is a thing of the past. Unless of course, you’re Boris Johnson.

On the weekend, the Sunday Times released a scathing look at the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. The piece hones in on the notable absence of Boris Johnson during five Cobra meetings held to plan the response to the impending crisis. And where was Johnson while some meetings took place amongst experts and senior officials? He was at Chevening, a 17th century mansion in Kent.

It’s not the first time Johnson has sojourned off during a critical moment of national crisis. Here’s a brief history of Boris Johnson’s crisis holidays.

VISITING CANADA DURING THE LONDON RIOTS

As pointed out by Labour MP Rupa Huq, vacationing during a crisis isn’t unusual for the PM. In 2011, when Boris Johnson was mayor of London, riots broke out across the city following the shooting of Mark Duggan. While London burned from Tottenham to Peckham, Johnson was on holiday with his family in Canada.

Although Johnson eventually returned from his holiday early, criticism was directed at the then-London Mayor for not returning sooner. At the time, Johnson told hecklers: "I came as fast as I could."

SUNBATHING IN MUSTIQUE DURING THE IRAN CRISIS

According to the Sunday Times, Boris Johnson was on a little private Caribbean island known as Mustique when the virus was first reported to the World Health Organisation on December 31st. At the time, not only was the coronavirus on the horizon, but a crisis was emerging in the Middle East after the assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. Johnson was criticised for not returning from the private villa to deal with the issue.

The biggest controversy surrounding the trip at the time wasn’t coronavirus or a potential war in the Middle East, but the source of the £15,000 holiday itself. Johnson told Parliament that the holiday had been funded by Tory donor and Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross. Ross denied this claim, telling the Daily Mail he was not the owner of the villa, but that he had merely “facilitated” the accommodation. In February, Labour called for an inquiry into who funded the holiday.

STAYING IN CHEVENING DURING STORM DENNIS AND CORONAVIRUS

According to the Sunday Times article, Boris Johnson did not attend any Cobra meetings between the 24th of January and 2nd March. For the two weeks of that period, when thousands of people had already died of coronavirus globally and Storm Dennis raged across England, Boris Johnson and pregnant financeé Carrie Simmons were holidaying in a large country house in Kent. Chevening – a 115 room Grade II-listed mansion – is located just outside Sevenoaks. Delightful.

AT CHEQUERS DURING CORONAVIRUS

To be fair to the PM, this is less a holiday and more a recovery break after contracting coronavirus. However, unlike the vast majority of the world who will spend a few weeks recuperating in their own homes, Johnson is currently spending time at Chequers, a country house in Buckinghamshire. The 16th century manor house is a Grade I-listed building contains a huge art collection, with a modest ten bedrooms, and is located near the Chiltern Hills.

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