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Brexit architect Dominic Cummings steps down as PM Johnson’s top advisor

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 20:06

Dominic Cummings, the controversial brains behind the 2016 campaign ..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 20:06

Dominic Cummings, the controversial brains behind the 2016 campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, on Friday stepped down as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aide.

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Amid speculation that he would leave the government at the end of the year, Dominic Cummings was pictured Friday leaving from the front door at 10 Downing Street.

Cummings was due to leave at the end of the year, reports said, but he was seen walking out of Johnson's 10 Downing Street office on Friday carrying a cardboard box.

A government source confirmed he would no longer be officially employed from "mid-December".

Cummings, a chief architect of the campaign to have Britain leave the European Union, has been a divisive figure inside the Conservative government since Johnson became prime minister 16 months ago. His position weakened earlier this year after he drove hundreds of miles across England after contracting Covid-19, violating national lockdown rules and leaving the impression that elite officials didn't have to obey the same onerous rules as everyone else.

The episode fuelled criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic after delays in the expansion of testing and efforts to avoid a second national lockdown in England. That lockdown was finally imposed last week, but it couldn’t stop the UK from becoming the first country in Europe to pass 50,000 deaths during the pandemic.

'Boris's brain'

Nicknamed “Boris' brain'', Cummings has also been the target of complaints from senior members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, who say that unelected advisers in the prime minister’s Downing Street office were effectively running the government, sidelining ministers and Parliament.

Bernard Jenkin, chairman of an influential committee of Conservative lawmakers, said Cummings’ resignation is an opportunity for Johnson to “reset how the government operates”.

“I would suggest there are three words that need to become the watchwords in Downing Street: they are respect, integrity and trust,” Jenkin told the BBC. “And certainly in the relationship between the Downing Street machine and the parliamentary party, there’s been a very strong sense that that has been lacking in recent months.”

Despite winning an 80-seat majority in last December’s general election, Johnson’s government has been forced into a series of embarrassing policy reversals in recent months, stoking criticism that Cummings was giving the prime minister bad advice.

In addition to his stance on lockdown, Johnson has backtracked on decisions to let the Chinese technology giant Huawei participate in building Britain’s new mobile phone network; one to use an algorithm to assign grades to students after annual school tests were cancelled due to the pandemic; and a third not to extend free meals to poor children when schools were closed as Britain faced rising unemployment due to the pandemic.

'Weirdos and misfits'

In a January blog post, Cummings called for changes in the way government works, claiming that the civil service didn’t have enough expertise in some fields. He infamously said “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” could help the government develop better policies.

In that post, Cummings said he wanted to make himself “largely redundant” within the next year.

In his Thursday interview with the BBC, Cummings said rumours that he had threatened to resign this week were untrue, but that “his position hasn’t changed since my January blog”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps downplayed Cummings’ departure, saying he has achieved many of the things he set out to do.

Adversarial approach

Cummings’ signature policy goal was Brexit – ensuring Britain’s departure from the EU – and that process is scheduled to be completed at the end of this year. More recently, he has taken the lead in rolling out mass testing to help control Britain's Covid-19 outbreak, and that programme is now being rolled out.

“It’s always been good to have somebody in the room who sort of shakes things up, asks why, doesn’t take no for an answer,” Shapps said. “And that’s been very much the way Dominic Cummings has been able to bring his talents to No 10, but he’s ready to move on.”

But Cummings has been criticised for creating an adversarial relationship between the prime minister’s office and those he thought stood in his way, including civil servants, the BBC and backbench lawmakers.

Jenkin said there has also been a breakdown in Johnson's government, with Johnson appointing inexperienced Cabinet ministers then dictating policies to them, rather than having ministers take responsibility for their departments.

Cummings’ departure is an opportunity to reshuffle the government and bring in more experienced ministers, Jenkin said.

“If you don’t have the corporate memory, well then history repeats itself and people make the same mistakes, or certainly mistakes that can be avoided,” Jenkin said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".

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Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24
This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE
TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24

This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.

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Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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Our guests

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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