Boris Johnson backs Dominic Cummings over lockdown breach


Boris Johnson has thrown his full support behind Dominic Cummings, saying his closest adviser “acted responsibly, legally and with integrity” when travelling across England during the coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Cummings faced growing pressure to resign after Conservative MPs called on the prime minister to sack him, following reports that he had broken the government’s restrictions on more than one occasion.

A joint investigation by the Guardian and Daily Mirror newspapers alleged Mr Cummings, architect of the Vote Leave campaign to take Britain out of the EU, had driven 264 miles from London with his ailing wife and young son to a family home in County Durham, where he was spotted on April 5.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street Sunday press conference, Mr Johnson said he had “extensive conversations” with Mr Cummings about the journey from his London home to County Durham and had concluded that he had not broken lockdown restrictions.

“Though there have been many other allegations about what happened when he was in self-isolation and thereafter, some of them palpably false, I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally and with integrity and with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives,” he said.

But Mr Johnson did not address the allegation that Mr Cummings made a 30-mile trip from Durham to Barnard Castle with his family that would have contravened the lockdown. According to The Observer and Sunday Mirror newspapers, he was spotted in the market town on April 12.

Support for Mr Cummings appeared to be spread thinly across the government and Conservative party. Following a barrage of supportive messages from cabinet ministers on Saturday, a notable silence on Sunday suggested that support for the adviser was evaporating.

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One member of the government said the prime minister’s press conference had made the situation worse. “Cummings is now doing real damage to the government and prime minister. Anyone else would have recognised that by now and would have resigned,” he said.

One cabinet minister told a colleague on Sunday: “It’s hard to see how we can go on like this, expecting parents, teachers and the public to trust us when we bend the rules when it suits us. This lack of confidence will put lives in danger, and I worry we may never recover from this.”

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, said Mr Johnson had “undermined confidence in his own public health message at this crucial time” and called for an inquiry into Mr Cummings’ actions.

“It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings. The public will be forgiven for thinking there is one rule for the prime minister’s closest adviser and another for the British people,” he said.

Map showing locations of London, Barnard Castle and Durham in UK

Several prominent Conservative MPs called for Mr Cummings to be sacked.

Steve Baker, an influential Brexit-supporting MP and former minister, wrote that Mr Cummings should go “before he does any more harm to the UK, the government, the prime minister, our institutions or the Conservative party”.

“It is time for Dom to resign so Boris can govern within the conventions and norms which will see us through,” he wrote in The Critic magazine.

Caroline Nokes, another former minister, said: “There cannot be one rule for most of us and wriggle room for others. My inbox is rammed with very angry constituents and I do not blame them. They have made difficult sacrifices over the course of the last nine weeks,” she tweeted.

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Roger Gale, a longstanding Conservative MP, agreed.

“There cannot be one law for the prime minister’s staff and another for everyone else. He has sent out completely the wrong message and his position is no longer tenable,” he tweeted.

Other Tory MPs who have called for Mr Cummings to resign include Simon Hoare, chair of the Northern Ireland select committee; and backbenchers Peter Bone, Craig Whittaker and Damian Collins.

One member of the government described Mr Johnson’s press conference as “an utter shambles that will do little to settle the febrile mood among MPs and the public.”

The prime minister’s statement was criticised in a post on the official Twitter account of the UK Civil Service. An anonymous mandarin wrote “arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?” The tweet was deleted after 10 minutes.

Mike Barton, the former chief constable of Durham Police, said it was clear Mr Cummings had broken the rules and added he could not think of a “worse example of a breach of the lockdown rules”.

Timeline

Dominic Cummings: ‘It’s a question of doing the right thing’  © PA

March 23

Boris Johnson announces UK lockdown. All non-essential travel is banned and those with Covid-19 symptoms are ordered to self-isolate for 14 days

March 27

Downing Street announces Mr Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have been diagnosed with coronavirus. Mr Cummings is seen running out of Downing Street

March 28-29

Mr Cummings develops coronavirus symptoms over the weekend

March 30

Downing Street announces Mr Cummings is self-isolating

April 5

Mr Cummings is spotted by a resident in the garden of his parents’ house in County Durham, according to the Guardian and Mirror. The prime minister is admitted to hospital as his coronavirus symptoms worsen. Mr Cummings’ wife later said: ‘Dom was beginning to feel better’ on this day

april 12

Mr Cummings is reportedly spotted at Barnard Castle, a market town 30 miles from Durham city. He is allegedly seen walking along the river Tees with his family

April 14

Mr Cummings is photographed in London, walking up Downing Street

April 19

Mr Cummings is spotted back in County Durham at Houghall Woods, according to another witness quoted by the Guardian and Daily Mirror. Residents said he commented on the ‘lovely’ bluebells



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