Boris Johnson Aide Quits After Furor Over Racial Comments
LONDON — The warning signs may have been there last month when Dominic Cummings, the influential and iconoclastic aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, invited “weirdos and misfits” to apply to work at Downing Street.
On Monday, one new recruit was at the center of a furor over his past assertions that blacks have a lower IQ than whites, and that enforced contraception could prevent “creating a permanent underclass.”
As the opposition Labour Party demanded the dismissal of the adviser, Andrew Sabisky, Downing Street declined all comment. It even managed to deepen the dispute by refusing to say that Mr. Johnson rejects eugenics, the widely dismissed field whose proponents advocate discouraging reproduction by people deemed to have undesirable genetic traits.
Then late Monday, Mr. Sabisky himself announced that he was stepping down, complaining of “media hysteria.”
The episode has both shone a light on Mr. Johnson’s leadership team and illustrated the sway that Mr. Cummings holds in Downing Street, where he cuts a distinctive, scruffy figure and has established himself as one of the most powerful and polarizing figures in government.
After winning a big parliamentary majority in elections in December, Mr. Johnson’s aides appear to feel little obligation to explain themselves, especially to a news media they hold in little regard.
The government is at war with the BBC, boycotting some of its flagship broadcasts and threatening its future funding. It has also tried to divide and rule among political journalists by offering selected reporters briefings from top officials.
The decision to hire Mr. Sabisky, may even so prove damaging for Mr. Johnson, in part because he has himself used racist language in his writing.
Mr. Johnson is already facing questions over who paid for a £15,000 winter vacation taken by the prime minister and his partner on the island of Mustique in December and early January.
It was as he basked there in the Caribbean sunshine that Mr. Cummings, one of the architects of the 2016 Brexit campaign, issued his appeal on his blog for “super-talented weirdos” to come and work alongside him at Downing Street. The idea was to shake up a cadre of top officials, often educated at Oxford or Cambridges, that Mr. Cummings considers complacent.
“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, ” Mr. Cummings wrote in a post that prompted applications from, among others, Uri Geller, the self-styled magician-psychic famous for bending spoons.
Mr. Geller seems not to have gotten a callback. But Mr. Sabisky, who describes himself on Twitter as a “researcher” and “super-forecaster,” was hired as an adviser in the prime minister’s office.
Then, over the weekend, reports began to surface about his various online postings.
On Mr. Cummings’s blog in 2014, for example, Mr. Sabisky suggested forced “universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty” for what he called the “underclass.”
“Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue,” Mr. Sabisky wrote.
In a Twitter post last May, he wrote that “women’s sport is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s.”
And in a separate blog post, he said that when it came to “intellectual disability,” there were greater diagnostic rates for black Americans than white ones.
On Monday, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, appealed to the government to “get a grip fast and demonstrate some basic but fundamental values.”
And even one Conservative lawmaker, Caroline Nokes, argued that there should be no place in government for such views.
It was not just political figures who condemned the remarks. Scientists, too, dismissed them as baseless.
In announcing his resignation, Mr. Sabisky said, “The media hysteria about my old stuff online is mad” but said he did not be “a distraction.”
Few mainstream British politicians have dared articulate views like Mr. Sabisky’s — at least, in public.
When Keith Joseph, a leading Conservative intellectual and ally of Margaret Thatcher’s, argued in 1974 that the country’s “human stock” was threatened, the outcry was enough to kill his prospects of leading his party. Mrs. Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and then won three elections.
Though some have defended Mr. Sabisky, citing freedom of speech, some in the government appeared to be distancing itself from him.
On Sunday, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, told Sky News that the ideas expressed were “clearly not views I or the government shares.”
The next day, however, Downing Street declined to repeat that formulation on Mr. Johnson’s behalf.
It also declined, despite many requests, to state that the prime minister rejects theories of eugenics or racial superiority. It said Mr. Johnson’s views on such issues are well publicized and well documented.
In fact, his opposition to those views has not always been as clear-cut as some might wish.
In 2002, before he was elected to Parliament, Mr. Johnson wrote a column for The Daily Telegraph referring to “cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies,” and to African people having “watermelon smiles.”
On Monday, posting on Twitter, David Lammy, an opposition Labour lawmaker, said Mr. Johnson’s behavior was offensive to black Britons.
“If you can’t stand up for the entire nation, you should not be Prime Minister,” he declared.
After Mr. Sabisky resigned, Ian Lavery, the Labour Party chairman, issued a statement suggesting that the issue was not over.
“It’s right that Andrew Sabisky is no longer working in government — he should never have been appointed in the first place,” Mr. Lavery said. “After No. 10 publicly stood by him today, Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer about how this appointment was made and whether he agrees with his vile views.”
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