UK’s Johnson struggles to shift attention from aide’s trip

The British government faced accusations of hypocrisy on Saturday after the revelation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings, traveled more than 400 kilometers to his parents’ house during a nationwide lockdown while he was showing coronavirus symptoms. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
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Updated 25 May 2020

UK’s Johnson struggles to shift attention from aide’s trip

  • Conservative leader Johnson is standing by adviser Dominic Cummings, who drove 400 kilometers from his London home
  • Many Britons saw the trip as a clear breach of the government’s national “stay at home” order, introduced on March 23

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to announce further lockdown-easing measures were being overshadowed Monday by an outcry over the movements of a senior aide who allegedly flouted restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Conservative leader Johnson is standing by adviser Dominic Cummings, who drove 400 kilometers from his London home to his parents’ house while he was infected with the virus.
Johnson said Cummings “followed the instincts of every father and every parent,” traveling so that extended family could care for his 4-year-old son if he and his wife both fell ill.
But many Britons saw the trip as a clear breach of the government’s national “stay at home” order, introduced on March 23. Cummings was heckled with calls of “hypocrite” as he returned to his London home Sunday after spending the day in 10 Downing St.
Stephen Reicher, a social psychologist who sits on a group advising the government, said “more people are going to die” because the episode would undermine adherence to the lockdown rules.
Several senior Church of England clergy joined in the criticism. Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines said the public had been “lied to, patronized and treated … as mugs.” Bishop of Manchester David Walker tweeted: “Unless very soon we see clear repentance, including the sacking of Cummings, I no longer know how we can trust what ministers say sufficiently for @churchofengland to work together with them on the pandemic.”
A self-styled political disruptor who disdains the media and civil service, Cummings has been essential to Johnson’s rise to power. He was one of the architects of the successful campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, and orchestrated Brexit champion Johnson’s thumping election victory in December.
Five months on from that triumph, Johnson’s government is facing criticism for its response to a pandemic that has hit Britain harder than any other European country. Britain’s official coronavirus death toll stands at 36,793, the second-highest confirmed total in the world after the United States.
The coronavirus laid low a swath of senior UK officials, including Cummings, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Johnson himself, who spent several days in intensive care at a London hospital in April.
The UK is gradually easing its lockdown, allowing more outdoor recreation and letting some shops and businesses reopen.
But as Johnson gathered his Cabinet on Monday to discuss plans to reopen schools and more stores starting June 1, the Cummings scandal showed no signs of dying down.
Ominously for Johnson, a growing number of Conservative lawmakers have joined the opposition in criticizing Cummings. Member of Parliament Paul Maynard said the aide’s actions were “a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ … It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable.”
The conservative Daily Mail newspaper, usually supportive of Johnson, blared “What planet are they on?” in a headline about Cummings and the prime minister.
In a front-page editorial, the newspaper said “for the good of the government and the nation, Mr. Cummings must resign. Or the prime minister must sack him. No ifs, no buts.”


US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 13 min 2 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

  • Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine
  • Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.