Countryside Wary of Carrie


The girl in the eco-dress is making me nervous. Ever since Carrie Symonds, the girlfriend of Boris Johnson, went to a bird-watching festival wearing a dress rumoured to be made of something that doesn’t destroy the planet, unlike the clothes worn by you and me, I have been fretting.

The highly disingenuous speech she made at this festival, about puffin hunting, which has been labelled false news by the Icelandic authorities, and the sight of her posing with Chris Packham, made me feel I ought to make an admission about my initial belief in Boris. I have kept quiet, as Boris was toiling away so hard at Brexit.

But then Miss Symonds posed with a cute puppy she had given a home to in Number 10, and somehow, as she did so, managed to cast aspersions on the farming community.

Worse, it later emerged that Miss Symonds met Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, in the private flat she shares with Mr Johnson in Downing Street on August 14 and Mr Dyer then sent her his reasons to refuse a badger culling licence in Derbyshire, along with a letter he had sent to Mr Johnson. Shortly afterwards, Downing Street ordered Natural England not to issue a licence for a cull there, it was reported in The Times, though she insisted she had not intervened.

I can’t take any more of this without speaking out: I’m afraid I might have got it wrong when I argued in a magazine article just before he became Prime Minister that Boris’s love life was irrelevant.

While nothing about this Brexit debacle and the Prime Minister’s handling of it has made me feel anything but admiration for him, I am worried by the carrying-on of Miss Symonds, 31, who, it seems to me, has spent her time in Downing Street dog-whistling to the left on animal rights.

When she was photographed at Birdfair with Chris Packham you could have knocked me down with a feather.

And this cute Jack Russell called Dilyn would have been a lovely story had she not briefed the papers that it had been rescued from a ‘cruel Welsh farmer’, who dumped it because it had a misaligned jaw.

The impression Miss Symonds gave was of an old man kicking a puppy out onto the street. But the ‘farmer’ in question turned out to be a commercial dog breeder who had cleared out what he considered unsaleable stock to a charity that goes in search of such animals and re-homes them. All very laudable of the charity, but a low blow by Miss Symonds to conflate farmers with puppy farmers.

What is going on? And what have I done by telling people not to worry about the finer details of Mr Johnson’s romantic life?

Miss Symonds looks to be on a mission. And either her mission is very different to Boris’s mission, or Boris needs to tell us something about his real views.

With barely a month to go until he is meant to be taking us out of the EU, I’m rattled by it.

Her ‘sustainable’ dress and eco-warrior views are the sorts of things lefties like but I’m not sure I understand how it resonates with Boris, if Boris is who I think he is.

Miss Symonds’s speech at Birdfair about the slaughter of puffins was enough to make any sensible alpha Tory run for the hills.

Look, no one dislikes a puffin. The problem is that her speech was carefully, some would say mischievously calibrated to give the misleading impression that puffin hunting in Iceland was something the British public needed to be ashamed of, when in reality they absolutely don’t.

And we know this because the Icelandic authorities, much bemused, have said they have issued no licences to British people to hunt puffin in recent years, but even if they had it would have been sustainable.

You see, Iceland has the world’s largest puffin-breeding colony and the seabird is eaten there as a speciality.

There are around 3 million breeding pairs each year and the total population has been estimated at up to 10 million, the highest since records began. Hunting by gun is allowed from September 1 to April 25, hunting by net from July 1 to August 15 in restricted areas. The total bag in 2017 was 25,539.

But Miss Symonds called it ‘trophy hunting’.

‘Why would anyone want to destroy something so beautiful, and stuff its poor lifeless body?’ she almost sobbed.

Well, maybe Mr Packham can tell her because he used to do taxidermy. It’s one of the many hypocrisies of his current position.

The picture she released showing dead puffins laid out in lines was from 2010 and showed the Icelandic Hunting Club, who hunt about 200 puffins yearly in one or two small groups of 2-3 persons each time. The hunters are from the USA, Malta and Italy.

The carcasses were not trophies, any more than lines of pheasants laid out at the end of a pheasant shoot are trophies. If a stuffed bird is taken out of Iceland, the authorities issue a letter confirming this is legal because puffins are not protected by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). They’ve issued one such letter in recent years.

But Miss Symonds appears to have put a somewhat hysterical spin on all this to cast aspersions on hunting and shooting people generally.

Using a platform afforded to her by being attached to someone who is meant to speak out for such people, she walloped that fraternity in the face.

In other words, she did a Meghan. Doing a Meghan is something that I think spouses of public figures should be called out on immediately. If you do a Meghan, you not only compromise the appeal of the person in the public eye you are attached to, but also the wider institutions they are attached to.

An eco-warrior Duchess is one thing. But an animal rights activist in Downing Street is quite another. ‘The problem is Carrie, like Meghan, is in search of a role,’ said a Tory insider. ‘And she’s got a lot of influence. For someone so likeable, Boris is actually a bit of a loner and doesn’t have many friends so the worry is she’s steering him in the wrong direction.’ She was, according to the source, ‘a nightmare’ during the Tory leadership campaign as advisors to Mr Johnson battled to keep her out of the spotlight. Those particular advisors are now gone, and with all eyes on Brexit it is clear she has been quick to assume the central place she thinks she deserves. And her friends in the animal rights lobbies, it seems, are delighted.

Does anyone think Mr Packham would have posed with Miss Symonds if she had not been going back to have dinner that night with her boyfriend, the Prime Minister?

The Boris we think we know, the Boris who is the grandson of a sheep farmer, shouldn’t let this axis go any further.

He ought to be concerned that the United States refused his girlfriend an entry visa to carry out work with environmental group Oceana, purportedly because of an earlier activist trip she made to Somaliland.

As an ardent Boris fan, I worry that he might be coming round to her point of view. How else would they co-exist unless he was starting to enjoy hearing the latest from Greenpeace or the RSPCA?

Like Prince Harry, he is cutting down on meat to please the missus. The once ‘rampant carnivore’ has confided in a fellow Tory MP that he is ‘toying with going vegan’.

If he does survive the next few months, I think we are entitled to ask our Prime Minister what he really believes when it comes to these issues.

I don’t care if Harry agrees with Meghan that the plebs are pollutants, he’s never getting his hands on power. But I am concerned if there is a part of Boris that is starting to think meat is murder.

Ultimately, I hope I will not be proved wrong in what I said defending Boris’s love life, which was written before I saw his girlfriend in an eco-dress – what is it made of, by the way?

If Boris does deliver Brexit, it will have been at a high price if he then goes on to sell his country down the river to the animal rights brigade.

The freedoms we thought we had lost to Europe will be as nothing compared to the lunacy they will rain down on our heads.

Melissa Kite is a journalist, and current columnist for The Spectator. She has also written articles for several other newspapers, including the Daily Mail, and was deputy political editor of The Sunday Telegraph until March 2011.