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POST TIME: 6 April, 2020 11:34:42 PM
Britain’s Brexit PM now facing COVID-19 test
AFP, London

Britain’s Brexit PM now facing COVID-19 test

Boris Johnson, who led Britain out of the European Union in January after years of political chaos and paralysis, now finds himself professionally and personally tested like never before by the COVID-19 crisis. The prime minister was riding high after winning a thumping election victory in December, and his initial response to the virus outbreak sent his personal popularity ratings soaring. But Johnson himself was diagnosed 10 days ago with COVID-19 and he is now in hospital undergoing tests, just as his government faces increasing criticism over its actions. Healthcare staff have complained they lack protec tive equipment, and like many countries, Britain lacks ventilators and mass testing for the virus.

As the death toll mounts, Johnson's liberal instincts are under scrutiny amid reports he initially resisted tough measures to stop the virus spread. A nationwide lockdown was eventually ordered on March 23.

Before coronavirus, the 55-year-old's legacy looked set to be defined by his role leading the Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum and then, as prime minister, finally taking Britain out of the EU on January 31.

But now his fate may depend on how Britain emerges from the crisis.

Divisive leader

The Conservative leader has always been a divisive figure, hailed by many for his optimism and humour, but accused by others of Trump-style populism and a disregard for the truth.

He has been sacked twice for lying and also faced accusations of prejudice for his work as a newspaper columnist over the years, describing gay men as "bumboys" and black African Commonwealth citizens as "piccaninnies".

As recently as 2018, he drew criticism for writing that Muslim women in the full veil looked like "letter boxes", even while arguing they should be free to wear what they want.

But Johnson rejects accusations of racism, and as mayor of multicultural, multifaith London for eight years, he advocated an amnesty for undocumented migrants.

His supporters say he is socially liberal, and simply likes to shake things up.