Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a groundswell of criticism on Monday from MPs, bishops, scientists and millions of people for defending controversial aide Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown rules recently, while the latter insisted he had ‘no regrets’ for his actions.

The UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic remained overshadowed by the story perceived by millions as one rule for those in power and another for the people. Johnson continued to resist demands from many of his party MPs and others to sack Cummings.

Cummings, who has been close to Johnson since the successful Vote leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum, travelled to Durham in north-east England with his family when the official advice followed by Britons was to ‘stay home’.

The prime minister’s chief adviser went on television on Monday afternoon to present his version of events, alleging that much of media reporting had been wrong and was to blame for the anger among people over his movements in end of March until April 14. He had not offered to resign, nor had he considered it.

More than 10 bishops said Johnson’s defence of Cummings was “risible”, that he had “no respect for the people”, “lacked integrity”, and risked undermining the trust of the public. Pete Broadbent, the bishop of Willesden, tweeted: “Johnson has now gone the full Trump.”

As police chiefs said it would now be difficult to enforce curbs, at least three experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies influencing government moves on the coronavirus pandemic deplored Johnson’s remarks: Stephen Reicher, Robert West and Susan Michie.

Reicher said: “If you look at the research it shows the reason why people observed lockdown was not for themselves, it wasn’t because they were personally at risk, they did it for the community, they did it because of a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.”

“If you give the impression there’s one rule for them and one rule for us you fatally undermine that sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ and you undermine adherence to the forms of behaviour which have got us through this crisis”, he said.

Closely following the government response to the pandemic, writer JK Rowling tweeted: “Watching Johnson, This is despicable. Parents all over this country have abided by the lockdown rules, even while ill themselves. Hundreds of thousands managed toddlers while shut up inside cramped accommodation, purely for the common good AS THE GOVERNMENT TOLD THEM TO DO”.

“I can’t remember a clearer demonstration of contempt for the people from a sitting Prime Minister. Johnson might a well had shambled into shot, give us all the finger and walked off again”, she added.

Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon added: “I fear, and I say this with a heavy heart, Boris Johnson is putting his political interest ahead of the public interest. And when trust in a public health message and public health advice is as important as it is right now the consequences of that could be serious”.

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