Boris Johnson has reportedly defended under-fire aide Dominic Cummings by saying his breach of lockdown rules was not like “visiting a lover”.
The PM is said to have suggested his chief-of-staff’s actions were less risky than those of scientist Professor Neil Ferguson, who was forced to resign as a government advisor after his girlfriend visited him during the coronavirus lockdown.
It comes after the Mirror exclusively revealed that the Downing Street aide travelled more than 250 miles to his parents’ home in Durham while fearing he had Covid-19.
No 10 has said Mr Cummings needed help with childcare after he and his wife Mary Wakefield fell ill, and that the Downing Street chief aide has Mr Johnson’s “full support”.
But calls for Mr Cummings’ resignation have intensified tonight after a joint investigation by the Sunday Mirror and Observer revealed he made a second trip to the North East after he initially returned to London.
And police contradicted Downing Street’s initial response by confirming they had spoken with Mr Cummings’ father, before deciding to take no further action.
The Mail on Sunday reports that, in standing by his aide, Mr Johnson said: “It’s not like he was visiting a lover.”
He also reportedly said that he considers the matter closed, as “Dominic had acted within the guidance and was simply caring for his family”.
Mr Cummings’ movements fly in the face of government guidance at the time stating that anyone displaying symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
And now, new witnesses have reported seeing Mr Cummings in Houghall Woods a fortnight after the first sighting on April 5.
A local couple, who did not want to be named, reported seeing him at the beauty spot near Durham on Sunday, April 19.
Mr Cummings had returned to London and was back at work on April 14, suggesting the aide returned to Durham afterwards.
One of the couple told the Mirror: “We were shocked and surprised to see him because the last time we did was earlier in the week in Downing Street.
“We thought ‘He’s not supposed to be here during the lockdown’. We thought ‘What double standards, one rule for him as a senior adviser to the Prime Minister and another for the rest of us’.”
The witness said Mr Cummings, wearing his trademark beanie hat and outdoor clothes, was walking with a woman believed to be his wife Mary.
The locals stepped back a couple of metres, in line with social distancing.
Ministers insisted that Mr Cummings had “stayed put” at his family property in Durham during his 14-day self-isolation period.
But Robin Lees, 70, a retired chemistry teacher from Barnard Castle, claimed he saw Mr Cummings and his family walking by the River Tees in the town before getting into a car around lunch time on April 12.
Although he may have completed his period of self-isolation, strict lockdown rules were still in place and the family were 30 miles from his parents’ home.
Mr Lees said: “I was a bit gobsmacked to see him. They looked as if they’d been for a walk by the river. It didn’t seem right because I assumed he would be in London.
“Of course he should resign now. You don’t take the virus from one part of the country to another.
“It just beggars belief to think you could actually drive when the advice was stay home, save lives. It couldn’t have been clearer.”
When asked earlier today if he was going to consider resigning following the allegations, Mr Cummings said: “Obviously not.”
The architect of the Vote Leave campaign added: “You guys are probably as right about that as you are about Brexit, remember how right you were?”
When challenged by a reporter who said his decision to self-isolate in Durham “didn’t look good”, he said: “Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.
A No 10 spokesman described the Mirror’s story on Mr Cummings travelling to self-isolate in Durham as “inaccurate” – despite confirming it earlier in the day.
They added: “Today they are writing more inaccurate stories including claims that Mr Cummings returned to Durham after returning to work in Downing Street on 14 April.
“We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers.”