UK faces political crisis after apparent lockdown breach from Boris Johnson's top advisor

Key Points
  • Top Johnson aide Dominic Cummings contends that his trip to Durham was within the scope of the restrictions.
  • A government minister has now resigned, claiming Cummings' actions were at odds with the public's interpretation of the rules.
  • Recent polling data shows that approval ratings for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government are slipping.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his political advisor Dominic Cummings (L) leave 10 Downing Street on October 28, 2019 in London, England.
Peter Summers | Getty Images

A political crisis is brewing in Britain after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's closest aide defied calls to quit over an apparent breach of the country's coronavirus lockdown rules.

Dominic Cummings defended on Monday his decision to travel 260 miles from London to Durham, northern England in March, days after the U.K. went into lockdown. The move has provoked anger from the public and led to the resignation of a government minister.

In a press conference, Cummings said his trip to family in Durham was within the scope of the restrictions because he needed to seek child care in case he and his wife fell ill. This, he argued, was one of the "exceptional circumstances" allowed under the government's lockdown measures. His wife had symptoms of Covid-19 at the time of the journey.

The political strategist said he didn't inform the prime minister about the trip ahead of time, which he admitted was "arguably" a mistake. But he said he does not regret his actions and has not considered resigning over it, insisting he "behaved reasonably."

However, his explanation hasn't convinced everyone. On Tuesday, Scotland Minister Douglas Ross announced he was resigning from government due to "events over the last few days."

Ross said that while he accepted that Cummings' statement on Monday "clarified" his actions, "these were decisions many others felt were not available to them."

"I have constituents who didn't get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn't visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government," Ross said in a statement. "I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior advisor to the government was right."

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Johnson has defended his top advisor, a key figure in the 2016 Brexit campaign, saying Sunday that Cummings acted "responsibly and legally and with integrity." Following Cummings' news conference on Monday, the prime minister said that "people will have to make up their own minds" on the political strategist's actions.

That defense could come at a price, with recent polling data showing Johnson's approval rating is slipping. According to polling firm Savanta, his approval rating stands at -1%, down from 19% on Friday. Approval for the government is also in negative territory, falling 16 percentage points in a day to -2%.

It comes as the government aims to further lift the restrictions on public life, after an initial easing earlier this month that allowed people to take unlimited amounts of exercise and meet one other person outside at a distance. Car dealerships and outdoor markets are slated open on June 1, while other nonessential shops are expected to open from June 15.