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.