Dutch PM admits ‘wrong’ move on royal lockdown holiday

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitted on Sunday he made a “wrong assessment” by failing to stop the king going on holiday to Greece during a partial coronavirus lockdown. 

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima cut short their holiday on Saturday one day after they flew to Greece, saying that they had taken on board the “intense” public reaction.

“I was aware of the king’s intended vacation during his stay in Greece. I have made a wrong assessment,” Rutte said in a letter to parliament on Sunday, after he faced criticism for his role in the incident.

Rutte said the king’s private journeys were covered by privacy rules so long as the public interest is taken into account, but admitted it was his responsibility to raise the matter with the monarch.

“I realised too late… that the intended holidays, which had met (previous) regulations, could no longer be reconciled with the increasing infections and stricter measures,” he said, referring to new rules announced on Tuesday.

The Dutch government ordered the closure of all bars, restaurants and cannabis “coffeeshops” for around four weeks under what Rutte called a “partial lockdown” to curb a surge in Covid-19 infections.

The Netherlands recorded 8,184 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, a new daily record, as the country struggles to get to grips with one of Europe’s highest rates of new infections.

The royal holiday row comes as Willem-Alexander faces growing criticism for being out of touch, with the Rutte government recently ordering a review of the annual royal budget.

“We do not want to leave any doubts about it: in order to get the Covid-19 virus under control, it is necessary that the guidelines are followed. The debate over our holiday does not contribute to that,” the king and queen said in a statement late Friday.

It also adds pressure to Rutte over his response to the pandemic, with elections due in March.

Jesse Klaver, leader of the opposition GroenLinks (Green-Left) party, said Rutte was guilty of an “error of judgement” and that the king’s return was the “only correct decision”.