Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Boris Johnson dismissed calls to sack his chief of staff on Sunday night after it emerged that the aide flouted coronavirus lockdown rules by traveling hundreds of miles from home.
Hours later, police in Britain opened an investigation into Dominic Cummings’ movements, threatening not only his future but that of the prime minister he helped get elected.
Johnson is facing mutiny from within his own party over his unswerving support of Cummings, as well as facing criticism from influential figures including Church of England bishops, scientists who are advising ministers on the pandemic, and normally supportive newspapers.
“What planet are they on?” was the front-page Daily Mail headline that greeted Johnson on Monday morning. The Daily Mail is the U.K. largest newspaper and influential right-wing voice that is typically supportive of Johnson and his adviser.
“Johnson has now gone the full Trump,” Pete Broadbent, the bishop of Willesden, said, comparing Britain’s leader negatively to the U.S. president.
Cumming is accused of traveling with his wife to his parents’ estate in Durham, 260 miles north of London, in late March. Days earlier, the government had made it an offense to leave home with a “reasonable excuse”.
Police said on Monday they are now in the process of “establishing the facts” around Cummings’ activity to see if he broke the law.
Cummings says that his wife had contracted the virus and he was concerned he would contract it too, so they made the trip to ensure they would have someone to help care for their four-year-old son.
Doctors and frontline workers have responded angrily to the revelation. NHS doctor Claire Redmond told the BBC on Monday that her husband, also an NHS worker, contracted COVID-19 they self-isolated with their three children.
“I suppose the concern is that we went to great lengths to [self-isolate]... and I don’t think I would have dreamed of traveling the length of the country in order to try and sort out some child care,” Redmond said.
Eye-witness accounts from Durham say Cummings did not remain indoors while he was supposed to be self-isolating, and newspaper reports Sunday said that on his wife’s birthday, he made a second trip to visit Barnard Castle, close to Durham.
“There is a plethora of additional information circulating in the public domain which deserves appropriate examination,” Steve White, the acting Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, said in a statement Monday. “I have today written to the Chief Constable, asking her to establish the facts concerning any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter at any juncture.”
Johnson said on Sunday night that Cummings, one of the chief architects of Brexit and Johnson’s successful re-election campaign last year, had acted “responsibly and legally and with integrity.”
After the news broke over the weekend, there was an initial surge of support from within the Conservative Party.
Senior cabinet members including chancellor Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Dominic Raab, tweeted support for Cummings, claiming that his trip was necessary to secure childcare for his son.
But by Monday, much of that support had evaporated, and those normally supportive of Johnson had begun to round on the prime minister and his adviser.
“Dominic Cummings must go before he does any more harm to the UK, the government, the prime minister, our institutions or the Conservative party,” Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister, and prominent Brexiteer wrote in a scathing article for the Critic magazine.
Opposition leaders have called for an inquiry and said Johnson’s support of Cummings undermines the government’s advice on coronavirus.
Cummings was also accosted in the street outside his home in London by people demanding he answer questions about why the rules didn’t apply to him.
On Sunday, a political campaigning organization called Led by Donkeys parked a giant video screen in front of Cummings home showing videos of Johnson telling the nation to stay at home. It also showed videos of people in intensive care saying they couldn’t see their families, and people who had lost loved ones to coronavirus and couldn’t attend their funerals.
Walking home on Sunday night, Cummings was shouted at by his neighbors. One woman can be heard shouting, “my mum’s terrified, my dad’s had three shoulder operations, Stanmore [hospital] have left him without his shoulder, and she won’t even let him walk in the garden, won’t let him go to the pub, won’t let him sit on a bench.”
She then shouts: “Hypocrite.”
Cover: Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus, Sunday May 24, 2020. PA Video/PA Wire URN:53863947 (Press Association via AP Images)