The Italian president has rebuked Boris Johnson’s claims that, unlike Italy, the UK is a freedom-loving country where it is hard to enforce anti-virus measures, as it emerged that the Prime Minister’s fiancee is holidaying on the shores of Lake Como.
Sergio Mattarella, the head of state, on Thursday responded to the remarks made by the Prime Minister during Question Time in the House of Commons.
“We Italians also love freedom, but we also care about seriousness,” the president said on an official visit to Sardinia.
The prime minister’s comments were also poorly received by the Italian press, which said he appeared to imply that because of Italy’s Fascist past and Germany’s Nazi history, Italians and Germans were more used to kowtowing to authority.
La Repubblica, a national daily, accused Mr Johnson of “conceit” and said that he had suggested that health measures “work better for peoples of an inferior temperament – Italians, for example”.
The prime minister had displayed “an Anglo-Saxon superiority complex,” the Left-leaning paper said.
Corriere della Sera, another national, was also withering. It said the Prime Minister appeared to be claiming that Italians are better than the British at wearing masks and washing their hands “because we had Mussolini and they had Churchill,” the paper said in a front page comment.
“Let me get this right – the country that invented queuing and immaculate lawns is not able to obey rules? Instead, group discipline is a trait of the Italians, a people who have a well-deserved reputation for disdain for regulations and individualism verging on anarchy?”
The dispute broke out as Carrie Symonds, Mr Johnson’s partner, was pictured holidaying in Lake Como.
Photographed strolling along a promenade carrying her four-month-old in a baby sling, Ms Symonds looked a million miles away from the doom and gloom of the Prime Minister’s address to the nation, in which he signalled that a second UK lockdown is increasingly on the cards.
Mr Johnson’s fiancee, who welcomed their first child in April, is reportedly staying at the £600-a-night Grand Hotel Tremezzo, popular with wealthy holidaymakers and Hollywood celebrities alike. A two-day stay at the luxurious lakeside hotel is rumoured to cost up to £6,400.
Making the most of the lack of travel restrictions between the UK and Italy, Ms Symonds and her three friends – including Nimco Ali, an activist who was awarded an OBE in 2019 for her work on tackling female genital mutilation (FGM) – were photographed on a boat tour of the lake.
Opting to not wear face masks as they ventured outdoors, the party also reportedly made use of the hotel’s £300-an-hour tour to see the various castles, stately homes and waterside villages.
Current rules in Italy require people to wear a face mask between 6am and 6pm where there are large gatherings in pubs, bars and crowded piazzas. But those in small groups, like Ms Symonds’, are exempt.
“Carrie seemed very relaxed,” one holidaymaker told the Daily Mail. “She was smiling and laughing with her friends. It was as if she didn’t have a care in the world.”
Ms Symonds’ surprising European getaway shows that the 32-year-old chose not to heed the advice of Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon, who this week urged people not to travel overseas or book any holidays unless essential “given that this is a global pandemic”.
Although it is not known when Ms Symonds travelled to Italy, the last time she was seen in public with Mr Johnson was at Wilfred’s Christening at Westminster Cathedral’s Lady Chapel on September 12.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister attended the Battle of Britain service at Westminster Abbey without her.
The news of Ms Symonds’ holiday comes after the separate Italian controversy engulfed her partner Mr Johnson this week after an Italian airport official claimed he had flown into Perugia Airport on September 11 and flew out again on Monday 14.
Exasperated by the claim that he had travelled to the Italian city in the middle of the pandemic, a spokesman for Mr Johnson insisted that journalists could “confirm with the priest” that he was actually baptising his son in Westminster Cathedral on the day in question.
Finally, after a day of rumour and speculation, the airport’s president admitted that it was in fact Tony Blair – not Mr Johnson – who had travelled through the airport on the weekend of September 12-13.
The airport described the mix up as a self-confessed “stupid mistake”.
A representative for Ms Symonds was approached for comment.