Boris Johnson has faced criticism for cracking a joke about the Dominic Cummings scandal that destroyed trust in the government over Covid.
In a call with business chiefs, the Prime Minister laughed off his ex-aide’s lockdown busting trip to the North East last year.
The “Cummings effect” was later blamed for a dramatic erosion of public confidence in the Government’s handling of the pandemic.
Research suggested it was responsible for declining compliance with the rules amid frustration he had demonstrated “one rule for them, one rule for the rest of us”.
Mr Johnson resisted making a gag when announced that GlaxoSmithKline will support the manufacturing of up to 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine at its plant in Barnard Castle.
But the PM later told the business leaders on the Tuesday night call: “What Dom was actually doing was scouting out the complex.”
Reports suggest his gag was met with complete silence.
Shadow business minister Lucy Powell said: “This really is no laughing matter when on his watch coronavirus has caused so much tragedy for so many.
“The Prime Minister has presided over one of the worst death tolls and worst economic impacts of Covid-19 on any country.
“Dominic Cummings’ trip rightly angered so many. “For the Prime Minister to make light of it when we are still in severe restrictions and so many are suffering is a disgrace.”
Former Barnard Castle MP Helen Goodman added: “The plant in Barnard Castle is excellent and I’m delighted that it is going to help the fight against Covid.
“It is ironic that it’s in Barnard Castle, but of course Dominic Cummings’ trip here last year – breaking all the lockdown rules – was really not a joke at all.”
Mr Cummings travelled 260-miles to County Durham at the start of the first national lockdown while he and his wife were ill with Covid.
He later took a 60-mile round trip with his family to Barnard Castle in what he later described as a trip to test his “eyesight”.
At the time Brits were told not to leave their homes in a bid to stop the spread of the disease.