Dutch minister retains job despite flouting social distancing regulations

Ferdinand Grapperhaus survives motion of censure, no confidence motion in parliament

In an extraordinary feat of political survival, the Dutch justice minister has clung to his job despite the publication of two damning sets of photographs showing him and other guests flouting Covid-19 social distancing regulations at his wedding in August.

Ferdinand Grapperhaus survived both a motion of censure and a no confidence motion in parliament on Wednesday evening when prime minister Mark Rutte's coalition remained united behind him – and the opposition didn't have the votes to make a wave of public outrage count.

Mr Grapperhaus – who as minister has been scathing about members of the public who broke the rules during the summer, describing them as “sloppy, lazy and anti-social” – was forced to apologise last week when the first pictures of the ceremony appeared in public.

The pressure on him increased when the Dutch royal couple, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, apologised after a holiday photograph showed them posing with a Greek restaurateur without keeping their distance or wearing masks.


The royals said they’d been “caught up in the spontaneity of the moment”.

The somewhat grudging initial apology by Mr Grapperhaus struck a different tone, lamenting the fact that a more traditional celebration after his wedding to journalist Elisabeth Wytzes had been scaled back because of coronavirus to "an intimate party" for just 35 guests.

He initially claimed that social distancing had been abandoned for only a few moments while guests posed for a group photograph after the ceremony at the town hall in upmarket Bloemendaal, which was performed by junior justice minister and fellow lawyer, Ankie Broekers-Knol.

No compromise

However, when a second set of photographs appeared, it became clear that social distancing had been widely abandoned at the reception as well.

The minister – who replied in July when asked about social distancing, “I don’t compromise on that” – was shown shaking hands with guests and embracing his mother-in-law.

The new pictures led to a storm of public and opposition criticism.

Opposition leader Geert Wilders said that in an environment where children's parties had been broken up by the police and people were being handed "sky-high fines", the Grapperhaus story became "more incredible by the minute".

Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher said Mr Grapperhaus personified a government that was "tough on society but soft on itself".

GreenLeft leader Jesse Klaver said that not shaking hands had been the single most basic rule everyone had adopted since March.

Following his apology, Mr Grapperhaus paid €780 to the Red Cross, twice the €390 fine for breaking the distancing rules.

However, the union representing wardens who hand out the fines, said: “It’s tricky to explain to people why they get fines – while the minister responsible for law and order gets none.”

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court