Aide to British PM Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret COVID-19 lockdown trip

Dominic Cummings, senior aide to Boris Johnson, makes a statement inside 10 Downing Street, London, Monday. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2020

Aide to British PM Dominic Cummings says he doesn’t regret COVID-19 lockdown trip

  • Cummings has faced calls to quit
  • The furor has overshadowed and muddled the government’s public health messaging

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s closest aide refused to resign on Monday, saying he had done nothing wrong by driving 250 miles from London to access childcare when Britons were being told to stay at home to fight COVID-19.
Dominic Cummings has faced calls to quit from lawmakers, Church of England bishops, police officers and scientists over his trip to County Durham, northern England, which they said had damaged citizens’ trust in public health messaging.
But he plays a vital role for Johnson, and the prime minister’s own judgment has been called into question for defending him and keeping him in his job, leaving many Britons thinking the rules did not apply to the people in charge.
“I did what I thought was the right thing to do,” Cummings said in response to reporters’ questions after reading a statement defending his decision to travel 400 km to Durham with his wife, who was ill at the time, and his four-year-old son.
“I think ... I behaved reasonably,” he said.
Johnson had come out fighting for Cummings at a news conference on Sunday, but his intervention backfired after he failed to provide any detailed justification for his adviser’s actions.
With a growing number of lawmakers from his own Conservative Party openly defying him by calling on Cummings to quit, Johnson asked his trusted aide — who normally stays behind the scenes — to explain himself in public on Monday.
The stakes are high for Cummings, Johnson and the nation. The furor has overshadowed and muddled the government’s public health messaging as the country gradually starts to ease the lockdown.
With a death toll of around 43,000, Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe and the government had already been under pressure over its handling of the pandemic.
EYE TEST?
In an extraordinary scene in the rose garden at 10 Downing Street, the official prime ministerial residence and office, Cummings, 48, sat at a desk on the grass for an hour, subjecting himself to detailed questions.
The choice of venue underscored Cummings’ power at the heart of government and his importance to Johnson, whom he helped to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union in a 2016 referendum, and later helped to win power.
He said he undertook the trip soon after learning that Johnson had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Cummings’ wife was already ill and he feared if he too fell ill neither parent would be strong enough to care for their son.
He said he decided they should go and stay in an isolated cottage on his father’s farm so that his 17-year-old niece could look after his son if necessary. Cummings did fall ill while they were there, as did his son who briefly went to hospital.
Asked whether he tried to find a childcare option in London before leaving, he said he did not think it would have been reasonable to ask friends to expose themselves to the virus.
Cummings answered questions about whether he had stopped for petrol or for his son to go to the toilet during the long drive.
Whether or not Cummings’ sometimes convoluted explanations win over critics may take time to become clear.
Quizzed about a drive he took with his wife and son from the family farm to a local beauty spot, Barnard Castle, he said his eyesight had been affected by his illness and they wanted to check he would be able to undertake the journey back to London.


HK media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under national security law

Updated 10 August 2020

HK media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under national security law

  • Lai has been one of the most prominent democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and an ardent critic of Beijing

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested over suspected collusion with foreign forces under the new national security law, his top aide said on Twitter, in what is the highest-profile arrest yet under the legislation.
Lai has been one of the most prominent democracy activists in the Chinese-ruled city and an ardent critic of Beijing, which imposed the sweeping new law on Hong Kong on June 30, drawing condemnation from Western countries.
The new security law punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Critics say it crushes freedoms in the semiautonomous city, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged pro-democracy protests last year.
“Jimmy Lai is being arrested for collusion with foreign powers at this time,” Mark Simon, a senior executive at Lai’s media company Next Digital, which publishes local tabloid Apple Daily, said early on Monday.
Police did not immediately comment.
Lai was also arrested this year on illegal assembly charges, along with other leading activists, relating to protests last year.
In an interview with Reuters in May, Lai pledged to stay in Hong Kong and continue to fight for democracy even though he expected to be one of the targets of the new legislation.