UK’s Johnson pushes his Brexit plan
LONDON >> With two days until Britain’s election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s final push to drive home his key message about Brexit was overshadowed Tuesday by criticism of his hamfisted response to the image of a sick child sleeping on a hospital floor and allegations that he exploited a terrorist knife attack for political gain.
Dave Merritt, whose son was killed in last month’s London Bridge attack, said the way the tragedy had been exploited for political ends was “crass and insensitive.”
Merritt’s 25-year-old son Jack was one of two people killed when a former convict attacked people at a prisoner rehabilitation event that Merritt was helping to run on Nov. 29. Attacker Usman Khan had served eight years in prison for terrorism offenses, and the attack sparked a political spat about security, the early release of prisoners and funding for the prison and justice systems.
Dave Merritt told Sky News that “instead of seeing a tragedy, Boris Johnson saw an opportunity.”
“And it was just such an ill-considered intervention and almost like a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “I think he saw an opportunity to score some points in the election. They immediately said, ‘Oh, this is Labour’s fault — they allowed this to happen. They had this early release policy,’ and so on.”
He said the way the tragedy had been exploited for political ends was “crass and insensitive.”
He said the family had not been contacted by Johnson or his office since the attack, although Johnson’s office said “the PM has expressed his deepest condolences to Mr. Merritt for his tragic loss — an experience no family should have to go through.”
Johnson, meanwhile, tried to focus voters on the prospect of an uncertain result and a divided Parliament, which would endanger his plan to lead Britain out of the European Union on Jan 31. All 650 seats in the House of Commons seats are up for grabs in the election, which is being held more than two years early in a bid to break the political impasse over Brexit.
Opinion polls give the Conservatives a lead over Labour, but all parties are nervous about the verdict of a volatile electorate that is weary after years of wrangling over Brexit.
“Polls can be wrong,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We need to be fighting for every vote.”
He accuses Labour of offering more “dither and delay” on Brexit. The opposition party says it will negotiate a new divorce deal with the EU and then give voters a choice between leaving on those terms and remaining in the bloc.
“Forty-eight hours from now, our country can choose between going forward, punching through the current deadlock ... or we can remain stuck in neutral,” Johnson said during a visit to a construction equipment factory in central England, where he drove a bulldozer through a plastic foam wall with “Gridlock” written on it.
Merritt’s interview was another late hurdle in a campaign that had gone smoothly for Johnson, until a newspaper ran a photo of 4-year-old Jack WillimentBarr sleeping on the floor of the Leeds General Infirmary as he awaited treatment because no bed was free. The opposition Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn painted the boy’s plight as a symptom of Britain’s ailing health system, which has suffered under years of Conservative government austerity measures.
Cyclists pass a mobile anti-Brexit billboard at Trafalgar square in London on Tuesday.