Minister quits UK government over aide’s lockdown breach

FILE - In this file photo dated Nov. 7, 2019, showing Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson alongside Douglas Ross, parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland, right in Moray, Scotland. Junior British government minister Douglas Ross has quit Tuesday May 26, 2020, over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s failure to fire his top aide Dominic Cummings for allegedly breaching COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown rules. (Stefan Rousseau / PA via AP)
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LONDON (AP) — A junior British government minister quit on Tuesday over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s failure to fire his top aide for allegedly breaching coronavirus lockdown rules.

Johnson has stood by Dominic Cummings over his decision to drive 250 miles (400 kilometers) to his parents’ house at the end of March, despite a national order for people to remain at home. Cummings says he traveled so that extended family could care for his 4-year-old son if he and his wife, who both had suspected coronavirus infections, fell ill.

But many Britons say Cummings made a mockery of the sacrifices of people who followed the rules to stop the spread of the disease, even when it meant staying away from loved ones.

Scotland Minister Douglas Ross said in a resignation letter that “the vast majority of people” didn’t agree with Cummings.

“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,” he wrote. “I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

Senior police officers said Cummings’ interpretation of the rules made it harder to enforce the lockdown, and scientists said it could undermine messaging about the importance of social distancing.

“It threatens to undermine that sense of community if a figure as prominent as Dominic Cummings and if the prime minister himself starts undermining that ‘we’ message and starts talking about ‘I,’” said Stephen Reicher, a behavioral psychologist who helps advise the government.

Johnson has stood staunchly by his adviser, saying Cummings “followed the instincts of every father and every parent.”

On Tuesday, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove insisted that Cummings “didn’t break the law. He didn’t break the rules. He sought to protect his family.”

But Cummings’ road trip has drawn criticism from scientists, doctors, bishops and Britons across the country. Ominously for Johnson, it also troubles a growing number of Conservative lawmakers.

“We cannot throw away valuable public & political good will any longer,” tweeted Conservative lawmaker William Wragg. “It’s humiliating & degrading to their office to see ministers put out agreed lines in defence of an advisor. This is a time of national emergency and our focus must be unrelenting. We owe it to the nation.”