Scotland Election Results Complicate Hopes for Independence Referendum

LONDON — Hopes for a swift path to independence in Scotland were dampened on Saturday, as early election results showed the dominant Scottish nationalist party falling just short of a majority in the country’s parliament.

The results, if confirmed after the votes are fully counted by Saturday evening, would deprive the Scottish National Party of a symbolic victory in a closely-fought election. That, in turn, is likely to stiffen the determination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain to deny Scottish voters the chance to hold a second referendum on independence.

Yet pro-independence parties were on track to stay in overall control, which will keep the flame of Scottish nationalism alive and ensure that the threat of Scotland’s breaking away will continue to bedevil the United Kingdom.

The number of seats won by the Scottish National Party in the election, held on Thursday, is in some ways less important than the political winds, which are still blowing in favor of the separatists. By allying with the pro-independence Scottish Greens, the Scottish nationalists could tighten their control over the regional Parliament.

a bitter feud with her predecessor, Alex Salmond, over a botched internal investigation of sexual misconduct charges against him. She was accused of deceiving lawmakers, breaking rules and even conspiring against Mr. Salmond, a former close ally.

Ms. Sturgeon was cleared of breaching the rules and misleading Parliament just as the campaign got underway, but the dispute dented her image. Mr. Salmond launched a breakaway party, Alba, which did not appear on track to win any seats but served as a reminder of the internecine split.

“This year has been quite difficult for the S.N.P. and for Nicola Sturgeon personally,” Professor McEwen said. Also, she added, “The broad shoulders of the U.K. have helped see us through the pandemic.”

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U.K. Conservatives Win Hartlepool Parliament Seat

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain scored a striking political victory on Friday when his Conservative Party snatched a bellwether parliamentary seat from the opposition Labour Party, which had held it since the constituency’s creation in the 1970s.

In a by-election in Hartlepool, in the northeast of England, the Conservative candidate, Jill Mortimer, easily defeated her rivals, consolidating Mr. Johnson’s earlier successes in winning over voters in working-class areas that had traditionally sided mainly with Labour.

Better still for the prime minister, the vote on Thursday came after days of publicity over claims that he broke electoral rules over the financing of an expensive refurbishment of his apartment.

That appeared to have counted for little with voters in Hartlepool, an economically struggling coastal town, when the results were announced Friday morning after an overnight count.

after a successful vaccination program for which Mr. Johnson has been able to claim credit.

Though not unexpected, the outcome underscored the extent to which Mr. Johnson is rewriting Britain’s electoral map and dealt a blow to Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader. Mr. Starmer took over from Jeremy Corbyn last year after Labour’s defeat in the December 2019 general election, its worst performance in more than 80 years.

That landslide election victory for the Conservatives in 2019 followed the crisis over Britain’s exit from the European Union, and Mr. Johnson scored well in many traditional working-class communities with his appeal to voters to give him the power to “get Brexit done.”

Though Britain has now completed its European Union withdrawal, and the issue is fading somewhat, the new Conservative victory suggests that Mr. Johnson remains popular in areas — like Hartlepool — that voted for Brexit in a 2016 referendum.

Collectively known as the “red wall,” because they were once heartlands of the Labour Party, these areas are being targeted by Mr. Johnson who has promised to “level up” by bringing prosperity to the north and middle of England, and to areas that feel forgotten.

Elections also took place on Thursday in Scotland and those could present a bigger threat to Mr. Johnson. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the pro-independence Scottish National Party, is hoping for a strong performance that she can use to justify her call for a new referendum on whether Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom.

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From Fish to Warships: How a Small Britain-France Dispute Escalated

LONDON — What started as a relatively obscure dispute over fishing rights rapidly escalated into converging British and French naval ships, as French authorities threatened to cut off electricity this week to Jersey, an island of about 108,000 people.

To be clear: Britain and France are unlikely to go to war. But the flare-up is a bizarre chapter in relations between the countries, and a sign of the ongoing difficulties in a post-Brexit world.

For those confused by it all, let’s get you caught up.

Jersey is an English-speaking island, about twice the land size of Manhattan, in the English Channel, about 14 miles off the northwestern coast of France.

according to The Independent.

Because scrambling naval ships, raising even the slightest specter of military confrontation, is a big reaction to a fishing license dispute.

It began, as many spats have, with Brexit.

For decades, French crews have fished in the waters near Jersey under longstanding agreements. But last week, under a new trade agreement created after Britain formally left the European Union in January, Jersey introduced new requirements for the French fishing crews, restricting how much they can fish there.

New licenses were issued last week. French officials, accusing Britain of breaking its Brexit agreements, were dismayed; one official warned this week that France could cut off Jersey’s power supply, which comes via underwater cables from France.

he wrote, referring to the naval ships.

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U.K. and France Send Naval Ships to Channel Island in Tense Fishing Dispute

LONDON — An ugly spat over post-Brexit fishing rights has erupted into a stranger-than-fiction maritime standoff between Britain and France, as naval ships from both countries converged on Thursday in the waters off the island of Jersey, where dozens of French fishing boats were threatening to blockade a port.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson dispatched two British Navy vessels, the H.M.S. Tamar and the H.M.S. Severn, on Wednesday evening as a “precautionary measure,” according to his office.

On Thursday, France deployed two naval patrol boats near Jersey, about 14 miles off the coast of France to “ensure the safety of navigation” as well as the “safety of human life at sea” in case the situation deteriorated, according to a spokeswoman for the French maritime authorities in charge of the English Channel.

The naval deployments escalated a dispute that has simmered for weeks, after French fishing crews accused the local authorities in Jersey of imposing burdensome new requirements to allow them to continue to fish in Jersey’s coastal waters, following Britain’s split with the European Union in January.

Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is not part of the United Kingdom but is a crown dependency, a special status that gives it self-governing rights, including its own legislative assembly, as well as fiscal and legal systems.

Dozens of French fishing boats have massed near the port of St. Helier, the capital of Jersey, threatening to block access to it. A French government official warned earlier this week that France could cut off the power supply to Jersey, which is delivered through underwater cables from France.

The dispute, which flared unexpectedly on the eve of regional elections in Britain, presented Mr. Johnson with a tailor-made opportunity to flex British military muscles in defense of British fishing rights, which were a sticking point throughout the difficult trade negotiations between Britain and the European Union.

“The prime minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey,” a spokesman for Downing Street told the British news media on Wednesday. Mr. Johnson, the spokesman said, called for a “de-escalation in tensions” and said any blockade would be “completely unjustified.”

Relations between Britain and France had already soured on a range of issues as Britain and the European Union divorced. President Emmanuel Macron of France raised doubts about the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine developed at the University of Oxford and produced by AstraZeneca, a British-based drugmaker, prompting charges of “vaccine nationalism.”

In December, Mr. Macron briefly cut off access to freight shipments to and from Britain to prevent a fast-spreading variant of the virus that originated in Britain from leaping across the English Channel. The British tabloids pounced.

“Kick in the Baubles,” said a headline in the Sun, suggesting that France was conspiring to ruin the Christmas holiday for people in Britain. “Monsieur Roadblock Gives Way,” said a headline in the Daily Mail after Mr. Macron agreed to lift the ban, subject to a virus testing program for truck drivers.

Fishing was one of the thorniest issues when Britain negotiated its new trade agreement with the European Union, which came into force in January. The deal ended decades during which Britain’s fishing fleet was under the same system as France, with their catches negotiated regularly among the member countries.

Many in Britain’s fishing industry supported Brexit because they believed that for decades, they had been forced to share too much of the fish caught in Britain’s coastal waters with continental crews.

But the agreement sealed by Mr. Johnson and negotiators in Brussels just before Christmas was a disappointment to British fishing communities, who had been promised a “sea of opportunities” by Brexit supporters.

Instead, the increase in annual quotas for British fishing crews was initially modest. And because Britain has left Europe’s single market for goods, British fish and shellfish require more documentation and checks when sent to markets in continental Europe, making them more difficult and expensive to export.

The trade agreement also addressed the complicated issue of fishing around Jersey. The island has the right to impose its own licensing requirements and has left French fishermen complaining of difficulties in receiving the authorization they need to fish in waters they have worked for decades.

Fishing rights have long provoked acute tensions between Britain and its neighbors. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Britain was embroiled in a confrontation with Iceland that became known as the “cod wars.” At its peak, 37 Royal Naval vessels were mobilized to protect British trawlers in disputed waters.

While these clashes have not mutated into broader military conflicts, analyst and diplomats said there was always a risk of accidental escalation. Others said it served to show the loose ends left by the Brexit process.

“This is the kind of old-fashioned dispute that the European Union was created to prevent,” said Simon Fraser, the former top civil servant in Britain’s Foreign Office. “When you leave the European Union, you risk reopening them.”

“It’s also an extraordinarily retrogressive thing to be fighting over fish in the English Channel, at a time when we’re hosting the G-7 summit and trying to talk about a new global role for Britain,” Mr. Fraser said.

Constant Méheut contributed reporting from Paris.

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Scottish Election Could Boost Independence Movement

If the pro-independence vote surges in Thursday’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, momentum for an another referendum on independence may become unstoppable.


It has weathered the conquest and loss of an empire, survived two world wars and witnessed more than one deadly pandemic. But now Scotland’s ancient alliance with England is itself in poor health and on Thursday it could take a serious turn for the worse.

When Scottish voters go to the polls to elect 129 members of Scotland’s Parliament , strictly speaking the question of independence will not be on the ballot.

Yet, as these photos vividly illustrate, Scotland is grappling with an uncertain future. Pressure is growing for a second referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, breaking up a 314-year-old union. If Scots vote in sufficient numbers for pro-independence parties in Thursday’s election, the momentum for another plebiscite could become unstoppable.

shellfish catches spoiled and boats tied up in harbors.

Both sides of the debate see lessons in that. The pro-independence Scottish National Party, led by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, points to the economic damage and says she would aim to rejoin the European Union after breaking away from England. In so doing Scotland could make a success of independence like other small nations like Ireland, which took that step a century ago.

Her critics say that this would pile more economic misery on top of Brexit by destroying the common economic market with England, easily Scotland’s biggest trading partner. It would probably also mean a physical trade border between England and Scotland, a frontier that is in some places hard even to spot.

Nonetheless, the 2016 Brexit referendum showed that appeals to emotion can trump those to the wallet. In Scotland identity issues have grown within a proud nation that always maintained a separate, some would say superior, legal and educational system.

Ms. Sturgeon’s S.N.P. is aiming for a rare overall majority in the Scottish Parliament to justify her calls for a second independence referendum. Failing that, she hopes that votes for other pro-independence parties, especially the Greens, will be enough to bolster her case.

Support for independence in opinion polls peaked last year at above 50 percent while Ms. Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic looked sure-footed at a time when Mr. Johnson’s seemed chaotic.

But the successful rollout the Covid-19 vaccine — for which Mr. Johnson can take credit — has coincided with a slight dip in Ms. Sturgeon’s fortunes. Also campaigning in Thursday election is Alex Salmond, a veteran of the pro-independence cause but now a sworn enemy of Ms. Sturgeon who was once his protégé. The two politicians fell out over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a bungled investigation into allegations against Mr. Salmond of sexual misconduct.

After months of feuding with her former mentor, Ms. Sturgeon survived a damaging crisis but Mr. Salmond has formed a new pro-independence party, Alba.

There are domestic issues at stake too and, after 14 years in power in Edinburgh, the S.N.P. has many critics in Scotland. In TV debates Ms. Sturgeon has been forced to defend her record on everything ranging from educational achievement to Scotland’s poor record on drug deaths.

In the Shetland Islands some voters feel as remote from Ms. Sturgeon’s government in Edinburgh as from Mr. Johnson’s in London, and there is even talk of the islands opting for independence from Scotland.

On the mainland the mood is uncertainty. For Ms. Sturgeon tough questions lie ahead about whether an independent Scotland could afford the sort of social policies she favors without the support of taxpayers in England or their central bank.

Noticeably absent from these photos is Mr. Johnson, who has stayed away from Scotland, knowing that his presence would probably undercut the Conservative Party’s pitch to preserve the union. Educated at Britain’s most famous high school, Eton College, and then Oxford University, Mr. Johnson’s cultivated English upper-class persona tends to grate on Scottish voters.

Despite his absence the stakes are for high for Mr. Johnson. The loss of Scotland would deprive the United Kingdom of about a third of its landmass and significant international prestige.

It would also likely mean the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base that the S.N.P. opposes, believing its location makes the nearby city of Glasgow a military target.

Were Mr. Johnson to lose a Scottish independence referendum, he would probably have to resign, and his strategy so far has simply been to reject calls for one. For a plebiscite to be legally binding an agreement almost certainly would have to first be struck with London, and the prime minister can continue to stonewall for some time.

But whatever the law, it’s hard to say no indefinitely. And a centuries-old union could face its greatest test if a majority in Scotland, which joined voluntarily with England in 1707, thinks now is the time to think again.

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U.K. Vote Is Likely to Back Boris Johnson, and an Independent Scotland

LONDON — For an ordinary politician, heading into midterm elections on an unsavory plume of scandal over cellphone contacts with billionaires and a suspiciously funded apartment makeover might seem like the recipe for a thumping. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is not an ordinary politician.

As voters in the country go to the polls on Thursday — with regional and local elections that have been swollen by races postponed from last year because of the pandemic — Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party stands to make gains against a Labour Party that has struggled to make the ethical accusations against him stick.

Far from humbling a wayward prime minister, the elections could extend a realignment in British politics that began in 2019 when the Conservative Party won a landslide general election victory. That would put the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, on the back foot and ratify Mr. Johnson’s status as a kind of political unicorn.

“No politician in the democratic West can escape the consequences of political gravity forever, but Boris Johnson has shown a greater capacity to do it than most,” said Tony Travers, a professor of politics at the London School of Economics. “People see his behavior as evidence of his authenticity.”

defeated in 2014.

emphatically behind a new campaign for Scottish independence.

In the English elections, the big prize is Hartlepool, a struggling northern port city and Labour bastion where a new poll suggests that the Conservatives could win a bellwether seat in a parliamentary by-election. The Tories could make further inroads in other Labour cities and towns in the industrial Midlands and North, where they picked off dozens of seats in 2019, running on Mr. Johnson’s promise to “Get Brexit Done.”

The prime minister did get Brexit done, as of last January. Yet while the split with the European Union brought predicted chaos in shipments of British seafood and higher customs fees on European goods, its effects have been eclipsed by the pandemic — a twist that ended up working to the government’s benefit.

Although the pandemic began as a negative story for Mr. Johnson, with a dilatory response to the first wave of infections that left Britain with the highest death toll in Europe, it turned around with the nation’s rapid rollout of vaccines.

who picked up the initial bill for the upgrade of his apartment and why he was texting the billionaire James Dyson about the tax status of his employees, when the two were discussing a plan for Mr. Dyson’s company to manufacture ventilators.

But there is little evidence that voters are particularly surprised or concerned that Mr. Johnson does not play by the rules. As political commentators have taken to saying this week, the prime minister’s behavior is “priced in.”

The same is not true of Scottish independence. Analysts say Mr. Johnson’s government is not prepared for the wall of pressure it will face if the Scottish National Party wins a majority. The last time the party achieved that, in 2011, Britain’s then-prime minister, David Cameron, yielded to demands for a referendum. In 2014, Scots voted against leaving Britain by 55 percent to 44 percent.

Polls now put the split at roughly 50-50, after a stretch in which the pro-independence vote was solidly above 50 percent. Analysts attribute the slight softening of support to both the vaccine rollout, which showed the merits of staying in the union, as well as an ugly political dispute within Scottish nationalist ranks.

Mr. Johnson holds a trump card of sorts. To be legally binding, an independence referendum would almost certainly have to gain the assent of the British government, so the prime minister can simply say no and hope the problem goes away. But that strategy can work for only so long before becoming untenable.

“I don’t see any way in the world that Boris Johnson turns around the day after the election and says, ‘OK, you can have a referendum,’” said Nicola McEwen, a professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh.

And yet the calls could only grow. “If they manage to peel off a single-party majority,” she said, “it does put pressure on the U.K. to answer the question, ‘If a democratic vote isn’t a mandate for independence, then what is?’”

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Decorating Scandal Engulfs Boris Johnson and Puts Fiancée in Spotlight

LONDON — Of all the unsavory ethical questions swirling around Prime Minister Boris Johnson these days, the one that has stuck is how he paid for the costly makeover of his apartment in Downing Street. And it has put his 33-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, under a particularly scorching spotlight.

Mr. Johnson has been accused in news reports of secretly using funds from a Conservative Party donor to supplement his public budget for redecorating the apartment — a charge that, although Mr. Johnson says he has repaid the money, has prompted an investigation by Britain’s Electoral Commission. But it is Ms. Symonds and her purportedly expensive taste in wallpaper and designer furniture that has become a running theme on social media and in British tabloids.

“#CarrieAntoinette” is trending as a Twitter hashtag, while the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, had himself photographed studying wallpaper at the British department store John Lewis — a labored stunt meant to make light of reports that Ms. Symonds derided the Downing Street décor left by Mr. Johnson’s no-nonsense predecessor, Theresa May, as a “John Lewis nightmare.”

Never mind that Ms. Symonds has not actually been quoted saying anything about John Lewis. The reference, in a profile of her in Tatler magazine, is attributed to an unnamed person who once visited her in the apartment. Tatler did report that Ms. Symonds oversaw the renovation project, and her involvement means she, too, may have to turn over evidence to the Electoral Commission.

For Ms. Symonds, a former Conservative Party communications chief who now works for an animal-rights group, it is the latest trial in a year overstuffed with dramatics: the near-fatal illness of Mr. Johnson after he contracted the coronavirus; the birth of their son, Wilfred; and the bitter purging of Mr. Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, in which she is reported to have played a behind-the-scenes role.

It all has put Ms. Symonds at the heart of a familiar narrative, one replete with sexism and double standards: the grasping, manipulative politician’s partner. She joins a parade of women, from Hillary Clinton to Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose murmurings to their men were the subject of fevered suspicion.

The fact that her relationship with Mr. Johnson coincided with the breakup of his 25-year marriage, and that she became the first unmarried partner to move into Downing Street, only adds to Ms. Symonds’ tabloid portrayal as a libertine Lady Macbeth or an upwardly mobile Marie Antoinette — choose your cliché.

“The outsized fascination with Carrie Symonds’ role in the prime minister’s circle reflects outdated sexist tropes that regard women in positions of influence as inherently devious,” said Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group and a research fellow at the London School of Economics.

Her defenders say that as an accomplished political player in her own right, Ms. Symonds has no less right to offer advice to the prime minister than any other unpaid adviser — and he would be wise to take it.

And yet, others say, there are legitimate questions to ask about Ms. Symonds’ influence, which goes beyond the news media’s obsessive focus on home improvements at Downing Street. Her ardent defense of animal rights was reported to have contributed to the government’s decision to halt a cull of badgers in Derbyshire, which contradicted the advice of scientists and veterinarians.

Friends of Ms. Symonds have been installed in key positions in Downing Street and, in the telling of Mr. Cummings, protected by her even after evidence of wrongdoing. On his blog, he claimed that Mr. Johnson wanted to shut down a leak investigation after it became clear that the culprit was Henry Newman, a close adviser to Ms. Symonds.

Mr. Cummings quoted Mr. Johnson as saying to him, “If Newman is confirmed as the leaker, then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie, as they’re best friends.”

Downing Street has denied that Mr. Johnson tried to shut down the investigation, but it did not comment about Ms. Symonds’ role.

Her defenders say she has a savvy political sense and could well have aspired to a seat in Parliament if she hadn’t begun a relationship with Mr. Johnson. To the extent that she is giving him advice, some say, it is helpful: cutting loose Mr. Cummings and other hard-core Brexiteers softened the prime minister’s image and improved his popularity before the recent ethics issues pulled him back to his more familiar role as a political scalawag.

“She was fantastic — she is very loyal and was hugely supportive,” said John Whittingdale, a former culture secretary for whom Ms. Symonds served as a special adviser. He described her as “a strongly committed Conservative” and a “very strong Brexit supporter” at a time when that was a less popular position.

“The people who are attacking Carrie clearly see a route to damage the prime minister by attacking her,” he said.

Ms. Symonds labors under a few handicaps, one of which is the lack of a job description for a prime minister’s partner. The role has no constitutional status, and unlike that of first lady in the United States, little administrative support. Successful spouses have usually had strong identities outside Downing Street.

Margaret Thatcher’s husband, Denis, was a businessman, as is Mrs. May’s husband, Philip. David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, ran a fashion company, while Ms. Blair, who once had her own political ambitions, worked as a high-level barrister during her husband’s decade in office. Though Ms. Blair’s influence came under criticism early on, the scrutiny subsided as she built a flourishing legal career.

“She always knew she could go back to her job at the bar, which made it less demeaning to be the appendage,” said Fiona Millar, a journalist and onetime aide to Ms. Blair. Ms. Symonds, she said, “doesn’t seem to have that life outside politics, which the people who’ve been successful at it did have.”

The daughter of Matthew Symonds, a co-founder of The Independent newspaper, and a lawyer for the paper, Josephine McAfee, Ms. Symonds was raised by her mother (both parents were married to other people at the time).

Her young adulthood was deeply affected by an incident in 2007 when she was targeted by a taxi driver who served her spiked drinks while driving her home. Ms. Symonds testified against the man, John Worboys, who was jailed as a serial sexual predator.

Well connected and social, Ms. Symonds became a public relations aide for the Conservative Party, eventually rising to chief communications officer, where she encountered Mr. Johnson. The couple had hoped to get married last summer, after his divorce from Marina Wheeler became final, but delayed the date because of coronavirus restrictions.

Life in Downing Street is less glamorous than it might appear, Ms. Millar said. While the job comes with a spacious Westminster apartment, a baronial weekend home, Chequers, and an annual decorating budget of £30,000 ($41,600), the government does not pay for food or household staff. Outside of public occasions, the couple are expected to cook for themselves or get takeout.

Living above the office, as Mr. Johnson struggled with the pandemic and his own illness, was challenging, people who know Ms. Symonds said. She contracted Covid herself, while pregnant, and then cared for their baby while Mr. Johnson, 56, was still shaking off his illness.

“There were times last week that were very dark indeed,” Ms. Symonds tweeted after he was released from an intensive care unit. Despite that, she retained her interest in environmental protection.

“Since having Wilf & not being able to get to the shops during lockdown,” she posted four months later, “I’ve relied on Amazon for lots of baby essentials, but I’ve been dismayed at the amount of plastic packaging. Please sign this petition to ask Amazon to give us plastic-free options too.”

Political commentators say they see Ms. Symonds’ fingerprints in Mr. Johnson’s embrace of green policies. They say she has played to his pragmatic instincts by nudging him toward a more conciliatory politics.

Few prime ministerial partners have been so deeply immersed in politics. Not only does she know the Conservative Party well, she also has strong contacts among its lawmakers, political journalists and the special advisers who play a powerful role in Downing Street and elsewhere in the government.

Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, said people have questioned Ms. Symonds’ influence “because of her specific insights and connections and background as a political operative and because of Boris Johnson’s malleability, and the fact that no one is sure what in his head.”

Some of the uneasiness about Ms. Symonds is as much about Mr. Johnson as her. With few fixed positions and a lack of ideological moorings, he leaves the impression that his decisions can be swayed by those with greatest access to him. During a year of lockdowns, that circle sometimes shrank to Ms. Symonds.

“The reason we’re fussing over this is that we think we have an inadequate figure as prime minister,” said Jill Rutter, a former civil servant who is a senior research fellow at the U.K. in a Changing Europe, a London think tank. “If we thought we had a really good prime minister, would we really care who his spouse is, beyond hoping he has a happy personal life?”

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Brexit Trade Deal Gets a Final OK From E.U. Parliament

BRUSSELS — The European Parliament has voted by a large margin, in results released Wednesday morning, to give the European Union’s final approval to a Brexit deal already beset by difficulties, complaints and a court challenge.

The vote was 660 in favor, with five against and 32 abstentions.

While the outcome was never really in doubt, the Parliament expressed considerable concerns about the trustworthiness of the current British government to carry out in good faith the two key documents of Brexit: the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which was just approved.

The latter agreement, which governs trade and customs issues and provides for zero tariffs and zero quotas, has been applied conditionally since the beginning of the year. It was finished on Christmas Eve and was ratified by the British Parliament on Dec. 30. But a negative vote by the European Parliament would have killed it, producing the “no deal Brexit” that neither side favored.

The European Parliament had delayed its vote to protest Britain’s handling of Northern Ireland and the protocol that governs trade on the divided island. Britain’s actions are the source of a legal complaint filed by the European Commission, the executive branch of the bloc, after Britain unilaterally extended grace periods for not conducting checks on goods being transported between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

put it bluntly on Twitter. “We will vote in favor of the post-Brexit T.C.A.,” he wrote referring to the trade agreement. “But we are concerned about its implementation, because we do not trust Boris Johnson’s government.”

There were numerous worries expressed about Britain misusing or undermining the complicated arrangements on fishing rights as well as the Northern Ireland protocol.

David McAllister, a German legislator who is half Scottish, said some of the problems encountered so far were from teething issues, but some derived from “the kind of Brexit the U.K. has chosen for itself,” which will mean increasing divergence from the European Union single market. That by itself will require continuing discussion, he said, as well as working through areas left out of the Brexit deal, including financial services and foreign and security policies.

Brussels was committed to work on practical solutions between Northern Ireland, Ireland and mainland Britain, he said. “But the protocol is not the problem, it is the solution. The name of the problem is Brexit.”

Asking the Parliament to ratify the deal, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, promised that Brussels would use the dispute and enforcement mechanisms in the deal to ensure compliance by Britain. If Britain failed to honor its commitments, she said, she would not hesitate to impose punitive tariffs.

“The agreement comes with real teeth — with a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for unilateral remedial measures where necessary,” she said. “We do not want to have to use these tools. But we will not hesitate to use them if necessary.”

Britain voted to leave the European Union nearly five years ago, in a referendum in June 2016. The complications of Brexit, and the continuing struggles over its implementation, have served if nothing else to end talk in the rest of the European Union about making a similar exit.

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting.

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For U.K.’s Johnson, Plenty of Mud but Will It Stick?

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has long had a weakness for a funny line, even in the face of an unfunny problem like the pandemic. When coronavirus cases first spiked last spring, he promised that a lockdown would “squash the sombrero.” When he spoke to businesspeople about an emergency plan to manufacture ventilators, he joked that it could be called “Operation Last Gasp.”

Now, Mr. Johnson stands accused of something darker: declaring at a tense meeting last fall that he would not bow to pressure to impose yet another lockdown, even if it meant letting “the bodies pile high in their thousands.”

He has denied the claim, made by anonymous sources to multiple British newspapers. But the papers, as well as the BBC, are not backing down from their reporting. The dispute has called into question not just Mr. Johnson’s credibility, which is regularly in doubt, but also his humanity, which is usually not.

pay for the costly refurbishment of his Downing Street home, and of trying to shut down an investigation of who leaked plans for a lockdown when it became clear that the probable leaker was a friend of his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

“Boris Johnson has a serious problem with Cummings going rogue because everything we know about Dominic Cummings is that he is a loose cannon,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent and an expert on the British right. “You don’t want him in the opposition camp.”

While the backbiting and knife fighting have riveted Britain’s political class, some analysts question whether it resonates much beyond the hothouse precincts of Westminster. Britons, they say, are more swayed by their country’s robust vaccine rollout and their ability to buy a pint at the pub after a year of grinding lockdowns. Plus, after decades on the political stage, Mr. Johnson’s foibles are hardly new.

As Mr. Goodwin put it, “The fact that he is seen as a bit of a clown and a bit of a buffoon is priced in.”

when he and his family violated proscriptions against leaving home during the first lockdown and traveled hundreds of miles from London to Durham, an incident that corroded the public’s faith in the coronavirus rules.

Mr. Johnson stood by his adviser, but Mr. Cummings was forced out several months later after losing an internal struggle, and the rift between the two men now seems bitterly personal. Mr. Johnson is reported to have called newspaper editors himself last week to accuse his former aide of leaks about the government.

build a narrative of sleazy dealings, cronyism and lying that inflicts real damage on a government that has overcome its succession of mistakes in its handling of the pandemic, largely thanks to the vaccine rollout.

Though Mr. Johnson became prime minister less than two years ago, his Conservative Party has been in power since 2010. Analysts pointed to an earlier era when, having been in power for more than a decade, the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Major was ground down by scandals and crises.

“There is a warning from history, from the 1990s, when the government failed to contain repeated allegations of sleaze,” Mr. Goodwin said, noting that it set up the Labour Party for its largest victory in recent history.

Some analysts predicted the public would be forgiving of Mr. Johnson’s outburst about the lockdown because they, too, found the repeated restrictions burdensome and because no one believes he would actually welcome thousands of deaths. They would also take into account his own ordeal with the virus and his decision to order another severe lockdown after Christmas.

“People can be cross because they are tired,” said Andrew Gimson, one of Mr. Johnson’s biographers. “He was exhausted and he’d been through a near-fatal illness, from which he had not fully recovered when he made that remark.”

Others, however, predicted that the flap over Mr. Johnson’s refurbishment of his apartment would throw a harsh spotlight on his sense of impunity, lack of transparency and unwillingness to make do with the perks offered a prime minister.

Mr. Johnson already has access to an annual public grant of £30,000 ($41,600) to upgrade his quarters. Newspaper reports say he augmented that with funds from a Conservative Party donor because Ms. Symonds wanted to get rid of the furniture used by his predecessor, Theresa May, which had been described as being in the style of the British department store, John Lewis.

The government insists Mr. Johnson paid for the upgrade out of his own pocket, though it is unclear whether he repaid money from the donor. However it was financed, the couple’s apparent disdain for John Lewis-style décor may sit badly with ordinary people, for whom the store is a symbol of bourgeois prosperity.

“Johnson has always stayed one step ahead of the sheriff,” Mr. Powell said. “But at some stage in No. 10, you can’t get away with lies that can be proven to be lies.”

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