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UK's Boris Johnson faces grilling over support for top aide
[LONDON] Pressure is building on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fire his chief aide, Dominic Cummings, with polls showing voters think he broke lockdown rules and members of Parliament calling for him to go.
Mr Johnson will face an hour and a half of sustained questioning from the senior members of Parliament who make up the so-called Liaison Committee on Wednesday. The subject is his handling of the coronavirus crisis in general, but the opening section will be his relationship with Mr Cummings.
In March, the aide drove his family 250 miles 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 Mr 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 per cent thought that Mr Cummings had broken lockdown rules and 66 per cent thought he should resign. A YouGov survey for the Times found the Conservative lead over the opposition Labour Party had fallen by 9 per cent in a week.
"I can't imagine it can drag on for too much longer," said Jim O'Neill, a former Treasury minister who is reported to be in talks to lead the government's efforts to "level up" disadvantaged parts of the country. "They have either got to somehow get attention focused on issues which are far more important or deal with it differently," Mr O'Neill said in an interview with Bloomberg TV's Francine Lacqua.
Tuesday began with the resignation of a junior minister and then saw Conservative MP after Conservative MP criticizing Mr Cummings. Nearly 40 had done so by the end of the day. Privately more of their colleagues, including government ministers, agreed.
"I have received more emails 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 Mr Johnson. "I feel it necessary to stress the importance of continued public trust and engagement with the measures being taken to overcome this crisis."
Mr Cummings isn't helped by his history of making enemies even on his own side. While he and the Liaison Committee Chairman Bernard Jenkin both supported Brexit, they fell out badly in the run-up to the 2016 referendum. Mr Jenkin tried to get Mr Cummings fired as leader of the pro-Brexit campaign. Mr 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 Wednesday. Its lead story also mocked the aide.