LONDON— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought Tuesday to get his campaign back to the issue of Brexit after coming under fire for his lack of empathy for looking away from an image of child sleeping on a hospital room floor while seeking treatment.
The story of 4-year-old Jack has overshadowed campaigning for Thursday’s general election as Johnson and his Conservatives hunted for crucial votes. The opposition Labour Party has painted Jack’s plight — no available hospital bed for a sick child — as a symptom of Britain’s ailing health system, which has suffered under years of Conservative government austerity measures.
The parties sought to return to key messages on the campaign trail, with Johnson’s Conservative Party concentrating on the risks of having a divided Parliament and endangering his plan to have Britain leave the European Union on Jan 31. Labour kept up its relentless focus on problems with the beloved National Health Service.
All 650 seats in the House of Commons seats are up for grabs in this election, which is also expected to break Britain’s political impasse over Brexit and determine its future relationship with the EU.
Johnson’s clumsy reaction to Jack’s plight merely gave it more attention Monday. A video of the prime minister briefly declining to look at a cellphone photo of Jack and then placing the phone in his pocket has been viewed more than a million times.
In the clip of the interview, ITV reporter Joe Pike said to Johnson: “You refuse to look at the photo. You’ve taken my phone and put it in your pocket, prime minister.”
Johnson then removed the phone from his pocket and looked at the screen.
“It’s a terrible, terrible photo. And I apologize obviously to the families and all those who have terrible experiences in the NHS,” he said.
The Labour Party found itself embarrassed, meanwhile, by the leak of a phone recording to the Guido Fawkes website in which the party’s spokesman on health issues suggested that the party would lose Thursday’s vote.
Jonathan Ashworth said his unguarded remarks were merely banter between old friends.