Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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UK police say Johnson aide made ‘minor’ lockdown rule breach


LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be hoping a near week-long furor over his adviser’s travels during the coronavirus lockdown will peter out, following news Thursday that police will not take any action on the matter.

Johnson, who is set to make a statement later on plans to ease the lockdown, has faced scorn for keeping Dominic Cummings in post after he drove 250 miles (400 km) to his parents’ house in Durham, northeast England, at the end of March while the country was under a “stay-at-home” order. Cummings made a later journey to a scenic town 30 miles (50 km) away.

Following an investigation, Durham Constabulary said the drive to Durham did not breach the rules but the second trip, to the town of Barnard Castle, might have been “a minor breach” of lockdown rules “that would have warranted police intervention.”

But the force said “there is no intention to take retrospective action” because no one else has been fined retrospectively.

More than 14,000 people in Britain have been fined by police for violating a ban on all but essential travel that was imposed March 23 to help slow the spread of the virus.

Johnson has resisted calls to fire Cummings, the architect of the Conservative Party’s December election victory, for flouting at the very least the spirit of the lockdown restrictions.

Cummings has defended his actions, saying he traveled to ensure that his 4-year-old son could be looked after if he and his wife, who both had coronavirus symptoms, became sick. He says he drove to Barnard Castle to test whether his eyesight, which had been affected by illness, was good enough for the long trip back to London.

Johnson is also facing pressure to scrap a government immigration-related policy after he appeared to be caught unaware of the fact that many migrants to the U.K. cannot access financial support during the pandemic.

Introduced in 2014, the “no recourse to public funds” status is a standard condition applied to mainly non-European people staying in the U.K. with temporary immigration status.

Johnson said Wednesday he would “see what we can do to help” people who have no recourse to public funds after he was challenged by Stephen Timms, a lawmaker from the main opposition Labour Party.

That’s raised speculation that his Conservative government may be poised to announce another change in policy. Last week, under sustained pressure from opposition parties and from some of its own members, the government said overseas health and social care staff would be exempt from a surcharge to use the National Health Service. It also said the families of all workers in the NHS and in care homes, not just doctors and nurses, who died as a result of the virus would be granted the right to remain in Britain.

“That the prime minister apparently had no idea what “no recourse to public funds” was and meant for people is extraordinarily worrying,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s spokesman on home affairs. “We’ve called for its suspension in this public health emergency.”

Though the government has rolled support measures to shore up household incomes, such as easing the conditions to access sick pay, many families have been unable to do so because of the conditions attached to their visas.

The government says a number of policy changes are accessible by everyone, including a ban on evictions. It also says that anyone can access hardship funds from their local authorities.

Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society charity, said more than 100,000 young people are affected by the visa conditions and urged the government to ease up on the benefit restrictions.

“People who work hard for our country should have access to support of one kind or another during these difficult times, which is why we are calling for a suspension to the condition,” he said.

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