A shopper queues in front of graffiti deriding Downing Street Number 10 special adviser Dominic Cummings outside a supermarket near his residence in north London. (Picture: AFP/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
A shopper queues in front of graffiti deriding Downing Street Number 10 special adviser Dominic Cummings outside a supermarket near his residence in north London. (Picture: AFP/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

London — Pressure continues to mount on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fire his chief aide, Dominic Cummings, with polls showing voters think he broke lockdown rules and MPs calling for him to go.

Johnson will face an hour-and-a-half of sustained questioning from the senior MPs who make up the so-called liaison committee on Wednesday from 4pm London time. The subject is his handling of the coronavirus crisis in general, but the opening section will be his relationship with Cummings.

In March, the aide drove his family 400km to his parents’ farm after his wife started to develop virus symptoms so that they could isolate there. Government lockdown rules forbade people going to second homes to self-isolate, but Cummings argued that he and his wife feared that if they were both sick, no-one in London would be able to care for their son. He said this was permitted under the rules.

But voters weary after months of lockdown in which they have been unable to visit family have responded with fury. A JL Partners poll in Wednesday’s Daily Mail found 80% thought that Cummings had broken lockdown rules and 66% thought he should resign. A YouGov survey for the Times found the Conservative lead over the opposition Labour Party had fallen by 9% in a week.

Tuesday began with the resignation of a junior minister after which Conservative MP after Conservative MP criticised Cummings. Nearly 40 had done so by the end of the day. Privately more of their colleagues, including government ministers, agreed.

‘Public trust’

“I have received more e-mails on this than on any other issue since being elected — many hundreds of messages from concerned constituents — and I join them in that view,” Elliot Colburn, a Tory MP, wrote in an open letter to Johnson. “I feel it necessary to stress the importance of continued public trust and engagement with the measures being taken to overcome this crisis.”

Cummings is not helped by his history of making enemies even on his own side. While he and the liaison committee chairperson Bernard Jenkin both supported Brexit, they fell out badly in the run-up to the 2016 referendum. Jenkin tried to get Cummings fired as leader of the pro-Brexit campaign. Cummings, meanwhile, was openly contemptuous of most of the MPs on his side, referring to them as “flying monkeys”.

He was initially equally dismissive of the story about his lockdown trip. But unlike many political stories, this one has cut through. The Daily Star, a tabloid newspaper that almost never puts politics on its front page, put a cut-out “do whatever the hell you want” Cummings mask on its front page on Wednesday. Its lead story also mocked the aide.

Health secretary Matt Hancock, answering questions at the government’s daily press conference on Tuesday evening, said he understood public anger but believed “what Mr. Cummings did was within the guidelines”.

But he quickly experienced the difficulty of holding the line that while Cummings’s behaviour had been fine, it is “incredibly important that people follow the guidelines” and it is people’s “civic duty” to isolate themselves if they have an infection.

“You end up in a situation where the elite can behave one way, and the public have to behave another,” Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party in parliament, told the BBC. “This is a shambles.”

Bloomberg