The Washington Post

Prime minister ignites very British scandal after letting dog off leash at park


LONDON — Who let the dog out? Apparently it was British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and this has led to a very British scandal, known to some as “dog gate.”

It began innocuousl­y enough. A video emerged on Tiktok over the weekend appearing to show the British leader strolling through one of the most popular London parks with his family and his red fox Labrador named Nova. But, as the video noted, there was something wrong with the picturesqu­e scene. Sunak and Nova were in an area where the park rules strictly stipulate that dogs must be kept on a leash to protect the nearby swans and ducks, and Nova was roaming free.

In many other countries, this is likely to be seen as a small incident, nothing to set tongues wagging. But this is Britain, where people can take breaking rules very seriously, particular­ly when regulation­s are breached by those in power. It means the police were involved, and it has become a hot topic of discussion in the media and among politician­s.

“We are aware of a video showing a dog being walked off the lead in Hyde Park,” the Metropolit­an Police force said in a statement to British press. “An officer, who was present at the time, spoke to a woman and reminded her of the rules. The dog was put back on the lead.” The incident appeared to offend a lot of British sensibilit­ies, with one Briton complainin­g on social media about it being “one rule for us, another rule for them.”

Leading the country after years of political turbulence has not been a walk in the park for Sunak. His government has been under pressure on several fronts this year, on issues including a controvers­ial proposed asylum policy, historic strikes from British workers affected by inflation, and ethics investigat­ions into members of his party.

Yet it is often the incidents of individual, and perhaps more relatable, cases of breaking rules that have captured the attention of the nation. On Wednesday, social media users alluded to previous times Sunak has been in hot water, including in January, when he was fined by police after a video showed him traveling in a vehicle without wearing his seat belt, and last year, when he was fined for attending parties at 10 Downing Street, breaching coronaviru­s lockdown restrictio­ns.

British attitudes to breaking rules, notably rules that are seen as part of a social contract, can be stern. Jumping ahead in a queue is considered an outrage by many. Similarly, research into social attitudes suggests that just 31 percent of Britons disagree with the statement: “‘ The law should always be obeyed, even if a particular law is wrong.”

And opinions can be especially harsh about politician­s breaking rules. The same 2021 survey found that 67 percent agreed there was “one law for the rich and one for the poor.”

Downing Street said it would not be commenting on the latest footage, Sky News reported, as a spokesman for the prime minister told reporters: “I’m not going to be commenting on the filming of the prime minister’s family and private individual­s. You can see the video, it speaks for itself.”

But critics of Sunak and the Conservati­ve Party more generally have seized on the incident to paint the prime minister as elite and out of touch.

On a British radio station on Wednesday, an editor for the Daily Mirror, a left-leaning tabloid, told the show host that Sunak “does just seem to be unaware of rules regulation­s and laws around him.” “Lock down parties, seatbelts and now dog leads!” lawmaker David Lammy from the opposition Labour Party tweeted Tuesday. “Why does @Rishisunak believe our laws never apply to him?”

On Tiktok, hundreds of people left comments slamming Sunak for failing to play by the rule book. “Rules for thee, not for me,” one person wrote. “Forgets he is supposed to lead by example . . . again,” wrote another.

Meanwhile, one bemused Briton told local radio that the incident was a good metaphor for how Sunak could struggle to keep members of his own party, including his colorful predecesso­r, in line.

“If Rishi Sunak can’t keep his own dog on a leash how is he going to keep the big dog Boris Johnson on one?” the caller asked, leaving the radio host chortling. Sunak has, in the past, declared himself a dog lover, saying that while getting a dog was not his idea, Nova is the “best thing to happen to our family in a long time.”

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