Denmark’s agriculture minister has resigned, becoming the first in the government to fall in a growing scandal over an illegal order to kill all mink in the Scandinavian country.
Mogens Jensen apologised again to mink farmers on Wednesday for the centre-left government not having the legal basis to kill up to 17m mink when it gave the order two weeks ago in a national televised press conference led by prime minister Mette Frederiksen.
The Social Democrat minority government in Copenhagen this week belatedly secured parliamentary backing for the order from other leftwing parties.
But opposition centre-right parties are gunning for Ms Frederiksen in what is the biggest scandal for her government so far. Her handling of the first wave of Covid-19 drew plaudits as Denmark shut its borders earlier than almost any other European country, but the mink affair is costing her public support.
After Mr Jensen’s resignation, the leader of the main opposition Liberal party Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said: “I want the prime minister to do the same. I want the prime minister to acknowledge that when she makes a mistake it is her responsibility, instead of kicking down and sacrificing the agriculture minister.”
Pressure is set to increase on Ms Frederiksen and her government when a series of reports into the scandal are unveiled on Wednesday. The justice ministry’s report will say that authorities broke administrative law and that the process was “reprehensible and regrettable”, according to newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
The opposition and some media have accused Ms Frederiksen of trying to use Mr Jensen as a scapegoat when it was her that appeared on TV two weeks ago and said: “It is necessary to kill all mink.”
“We are in a democratic scandal we haven’t seen in recent times, and still it seems that leftwing support parties of the government are more interested in protecting friends and power than the rule of law and democracy,” daily newspaper Berlingske wrote this week.
Denmark is the world’s largest producer of mink, selling most of the fur to China and Russia, but the new law proposal this week will ban farming of the creatures until 2022.
The cull descended into farce last week as the government was forced to concede it was only legal to kill infected mink and those within 8km of infected animals. Some mink farmers stopped their cull while Danish TV showed several in tears as thousands of their mink were gassed and taken away in lorries to be buried in mass graves on military land.
Ms Frederiksen justified the cull two weeks ago by saying that a dangerous mutation of Covid-19 had been found among some humans. But scientists have since questioned how dangerous that mutation was while Danish health officials have said it has probably died out.
Trust in government’s Covid-19 strategy has fallen from 76 per cent in July to 56 per cent last week, according to an Aarhus University study.