/Monday briefing: Johnson caught in Cummings turmoil

Monday briefing: Johnson caught in Cummings turmoil

Top story: Cummings could face police investigation

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories to start the week.

Boris Johnson will face renewed pressure today to sack Dominic Cummings despite his attempts to defend his aide, who has been widely condemned for driving 260 miles to his parents’ home in March in an apparent breach of lockdown rules. The prime minister tried to quell the mounting storm triggered by the Guardian’s story on Saturday by saying yesterday that Cummings had acted with “integrity”. But with government scientific advisers expressing dismay at the aide’s flouting of the rules and nine Tory MPs calling for Cummings’s head, Johnson has not silenced the critics. A post on the official civil service Twitter account appearing to take aim at Johnson and Cummings, who has made many enemies in Whitehall with his combative style, was deleted after being widely shared on Sunday. Find out what the papers have to say here, including our columnist Martin Kettle, who savages Johnson’s response, calling it a “self-centred, self-indulgent signal to the public that the rules no longer really matter”.

At an unscheduled press conference appearance on Sunday, Johnson said some aspects of the story about Cummings were “palpably false”, but he did not say which and ignored some direct questions. Cummings is facing a possible police investigation after a witness complained to police that he saw Cummings in Durham in a second breach of lockdown in April. Retired chemistry teacher Richard Lees noted the number of a car which he said Cummings was driving in Barnard Castle on 12 April. Read what we know so far about Cummings’s movements.

The affair placed other developments in the coronavirus story in the shade over the weekend although the PM was forced yesterday to acknowledge that some primary schools will need more time to prepare before pupils can return. He had hoped all primaries would reopen next Monday. The testing row also rumbles on with doctors accusing Public Health England of covering up concerns that almost one-third of tests produce false results.

The virus has now infected 5.4 million people around the world and killed 345,000. You can follow all the day’s developments in the pandemic at our live blog here, and catch up with overnight news at a glance.

There’s more in our Coronavirus Extra section further down … and here’s where you can find all our coverage of the outbreak – from breaking news to factchecks and advice.

Equality struggle – Fifty years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act, about 29,000 people are still lodging claims for redress under the legislation inspired by striking women at Ford’s factory in Dagenham. According to research by the law firm DLA Piper, employment tribunals in England and Wales have received more than 368,000 complaints relating to equal pay since 2007-08, an average of almost 29,000 complaints a year. The study also suggests that the figures could be even higher as many cases are withdrawn before they reach tribunals.

Bank holiday bonus – An extra bank holiday in October this year could boost the economy by £500m, according to an economics thinktank. The CEBR says the government’s suggestion of an extra day off could lead to a huge amount of extra spending in the travel and leisure sectors as pent-up demand is unleashed after lockdown. The report’s author, Douglas McWilliams, has previously claimed that bank holidays actually cost the economy money but he appears to have reversed his thinking.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern’s live TV interview interrupted by magnitude-5.8 earthquake – video

‘A decent shake’ – Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, has been interrupted during a live television interview by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in the capital Wellington. “We’re just having a bit of an earthquake here,” she tells the interviewer. “… quite a decent shake here. If you see things moving behind me.” The quake struck about 100km from the capital on Monday morning. There was no major damage reported.

Coronavirus Extra

A European commission plan floated three years ago to fast-track the development of vaccines for pathogens such as coronavirus was rejected by the big pharmaceutical companies. Two of our European correspondents assess how the continent’s opposition politicians are negotiating the tricky business of holding governments to account while maintaining public consensus about lockdown measures.

In echoes of the Cummings affair, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been branded a “killer” for going out for a hot dog on Saturday in an affront to health ministry guidelines. Almost 1,000 died in the country on Saturday and it now has the second most cases behind the US. Donald Trump’s national security adviser has accused China of a Chernobyl-style coverup over its handling of the virus outbreak. Americans have flocked in their thousands to tourist spots such as the Lake of the Ozarks and Florida beaches.

Today in Focus podcast

On 23 February Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man, was shot dead by two white men in Brunswick, Georgia. But it was only when a 36-second video of the killing was leaked on 5 May, generating nationwide outcry, that three men were charged with his murder. Why did it take so long?

Today in Focus

The killing of Ahmaud Arbery

Lunchtime read: ‘The tabloids thought I was Cruella de Vil’

Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig Photograph: Debbie Toksvig

The comic and TV presenter Sandi Toksvig talks to Zoe Williams about the dark days when she was vilified in the press for being gay, quitting Bake Off and life during lockdown (“I miss restaurants. I want some really, really unctuous service.”).


Former England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who started three games this season but is still only 33, has told the Guardian he is open to moving abroad to get back into the big time. Elite athletes must be given the ability to opt out of a return to contact training, according to new advice from the government that paves the way for the return of the Premier League. Nikoloz Basilashvili, the Georgian tennis player, has been arrested on a domestic violence charge in the capital, Tbilisi. A senior racing official has said he is “incredibly confident” that the sport will be allowed to resume a week on Monday. Tom Brady, an athlete acquainted with magnificent comebacks, pulled off a highlight-reel shot during a made-for-TV charity golf match featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Peyton Manning. And the Audi Formula E driver Daniel Abt has been found guilty of using a ringer to drive for him in the Formula E esport championship.


The Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer has paid the price for the carmaker’s poor stock market performance and has been sacked. Its shares have fallen 98% in value since being floated two years ago. Asian markets have had a positive day but the FTSE is closed for the bank holiday. The pound is buying $1.221 and €1.218.

The papers

There’s only one story in town today. The Guardian leads with “No apology, no explanation: PM bets all on Cummings” and the Mirror, which broke the story with the Guardian, goes for “A cheat & a coward” next to pictures of Cummings and Johnson.

Guardian front page, Monday 25 May 2020

Photograph: The Guardian

The Mail’s splash headline asks “What planet are they on?”, but other Tory supporting papers hold back from attacking No 10 and stick to Johnson’s line of defence. The Telegraph headline quotes the PM “‘He has acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’”, while the Times says “Cummings acted like any father, insists PM”. The Sun goes with a punning headline, “Backed to school”, while the Express plays it straight down the line with “Defiant Boris stands by his man”. The i tries to take it on a but further, saying “Chaos in No 10 as Cummings clings on with PM’s support”.

Only the FT differs in its choice of top story. “Treasury draws up bailout plan to aid key debt-laden companies”, it says.

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