A UK junior minister has resigned and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ratings in the polls have taken a sharp dive amid controversy surrounding the actions of a senior adviser during lockdown.
The undersecretary of state for Scotland, Douglas Ross, said on Tuesday he was quitting after hearing Mr Johnson’s top aide, Dominic Cummings, defend his trip from London to his parents’ farm in the North of England.
In his resignation letter, Mr Ross said it was clear the decision made by Mr Cummings to travel more than 400km to his parents’ property with possible Covid-19 symptoms was not an option many others had felt was available to them.
At the same time, as an indication of how much political capital the UK government has spent protecting Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s approval ratings have collapsed by 20 per cent.
“I accept his statement on Monday afternoon clarified the actions he took in what he felt were the best interests of his family. However, these were decisions many others felt were not available to them,” the MP for Moray wrote.
“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families 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,” Mr Ross added.
Already defending itself from criticism that it handled the start of the coronavirus outbreak badly, Mr Johnson’s government has been engulfed by a backlash both in the media and from the public over Mr Cummings’ actions.
A tracking poll from Savanta ComRes has shown Mr Johnson’s approval rating is now at -1 per cent. The prime minister, who won an overwhelming majority in the general election at the end of last year, was at 19 per cent approval only four days ago. Overall government approval, the poll showed, was now at -2 per cent, falling 16 points in one day.
Polling by YouGov has also shown a majority of Britons believe Mr Cummings should resign. Of those polled 59 per cent versus 27 per cent said the senior aide should quit. Even more, 71 per cent of those questioned, said they thought Mr Cummings had broken lockdown rules through his action.
In an extraordinary press conference yesterday, the top aide attempted to explain, step by step, why he travelled with his family to the County Durham property in March while he and his wife were possibly suffering from Covid-19.
However, questions have persisted as to why Mr Cummings, one of the central architects of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, travelled to a local beauty spot, about 40km from where he was self-isolating.
Senior Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, one of Mr Cummings’ main political allies, has defended the adviser saying the trip was “completely appropriate”. The top government aide said he made the journey with his wife and small child in the car because he wanted to test his eyes before he returned to work.
"It'd have been entirely within his right to return to work that day on the basis of the advice he had been given, that's my understanding, so that drive was completely appropriate,” Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4.
Despite the prime minister's decision to back his key adviser, MPs from the governing Conservative Party have been rattled by the outpouring of public anger over Mr Cummings actions. Conservative MP and ardent pro-Brexit campaigner Steve Baker has said it is “intolerable that Boris’s government is losing so much political capital” in attempting to keep the senior adviser in place.
Mr Cummings said yesterday that it would be up to the prime minister if he were to stay on in his position if the scandal continued to play out to the detriment of the government.
Medical experts have voiced concerns the top aide’s perceived flouting of the lockdown will undermine the government’s message on Covid-19.
The controversy has already overshadowed plans to reopen parts of the economy and some schools next month. So far 46,383 deaths have been registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.