Theresa May has accused Dominic Cummings of failing to “follow the spirit” of coronavirus lockdown guidance.
The former Prime Minister, who was Home Secretary for six years before entering No10, said she could “well understand” the public’s “anger” at revelations he drove 260 miles from London to a family farm in Durham during the Covid-19 shutdown when people were told to stay at home.
In a fresh blow to Boris Johnson as the Tory civil war over Mr Cummings widened, she became the latest senior Conservative to criticise the behaviour of the No10 aide.
Delivering her verdict in a statement to her constituents in Maidenhead, Berks, Mrs May said: “What this matter has shown is that there was a discrepancy between the simple messages given by the Government and the details of the legislation passed by Parliament.
“In these circumstances I do not feel that Mr Cummings followed the spirit of the guidance.
“I can well understand the anger of those who have been abiding by the spirit of the guidance given by the Government and expect others to do so.
“One of my biggest concerns has been that the ongoing focus on Mr Cummings has been detracting from the most important task, which is dealing with coronavirus and starting the process of recovery and easing lockdown.”
Mrs May is fiercely loyal to her party and her intervention demonstrates the strength of feeling on Conservative backbenches.
It highlights the deep rift Mr Johnson has opened among Tories by standing by his adviser, despite the Mirror revealing last weekend how he travelled from London to Durham, and also made a 60-mile round trip to a local beauty spot, Barnard Castle, during lockdown.
Mr Cummings claimed he went to Durham so he and his wife had access to childcare for their young son if they fell ill.
He tried to justify the journey to Barnard Castle by claiming he was testing his eyesight.
Police said he would have been turned back if he had been caught on his drive from the capital.
He may have committed a minor breach of lockdown rules with the trip to Barnard Castle, they added.
Nearly 17,000 fines for alleged breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules have been issued by police in England and Wales, according to figures yesterday(FRI) from the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
But officers will take no action against Mr Cummings and the PM believes the matter is closed.
The ongoing row continued to overshadow the Government’s response to the pandemic.
The UK death toll reached 38,161 , up 324.
A separate measure using the UK’s various statistics offices showed the UK count has passed 48,000.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled an overhaul of the Government’s furlough scheme for workers – sparking warnings of mass redundancies.
Businesses must start paying into the initiative from August, funding National Insurance and employer pension contributions.
The Job Retention Scheme, brought in to stop firms making redundancies as the economy was forced to a standstill, allows employees to receive 80% of their monthly salary up to £2,500.
All the cost has so far been paid by the Government, averaging about £14billion a month.
But in September companies’ contributions will rise to 10%, climbing to 20% in October.
The Government will cover 70% of wages up to £2,190 in September, with employers to pay National Insurance and pension contributions and 10% of wages.
The following month, the Treasury will pick up 60% of wages to a £1,875 limit, with employers paying tax contributions and 20% of wages.
Workers can return part-time without losing any furlough payments from July – a month earlier than previously planned.
If someone goes back part-time, their entire wages will be paid by their company on days they work, but they will be on the furlough initiative when they are not working.
The Chancellor extended the self-employment income support scheme, which has so far seen 2.3 million claims worth £6.8billion.
It allows the self-employed to access grants of up to £6,570 from August.
Individuals could claim up to £7,500 under the first grant, which launched earlier this month.
Unveiling the packages, Mr Sunak said: “Our thoughts, our energies, our resources must turn to looking forward to planning for the recovery and we will need the dynamism of our whole economy as we fight our way back to prosperity.
“Not everything will look the same as before. It won’t be the case that we can simply put the key in the lock, open the door and step into the world as it was in January.
“We will develop new measures to grow the economy, to back business, to boost skills and to help people thrive in the new post-Covid world.
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“Today, a new national collective effort begins to reopen our country and kickstart our economy.”
Confederation of British Industry director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “The Government’s support throughout the lockdown so far has been a lifeline for businesses, employees and the self-employed.
“The changes announced will help ensure the schemes stay effective as we begin a cautious recovery.”
But experts fear firms in the worst-hit industries which have so far resisted shedding staff may sack workers when they become responsible for paying them again.
Resolution Foundation think tank chief executive Torsten Bell said: “The one-size-fits-all approach will prove tough for hard-hit sectors, even with the initially low level of employer contributions.
“Policymakers should prepare for significant redundancies among the two million hospitality workers currently furloughed.”
GMB acting general secretary John Phillips said: “The Chancellor’s furlough plans provide a valuable lifeline for business and workers, but people mustn’t be abandoned while the economy is still stuttering.
“In October lots of sectors – leisure, hospitality, aviation – may still be on their knees.
“Those workers can’t just be thrown to the wolves.”
Prospect union general secretary Mike Clancy said: “The stark reality is that there are currently many viable employers with no cash-flow who are looking at months before they can fully resume operations.
“Even asking for modest contributions from these employers before they reopen will trigger a wave of avoidable redundancies.”
The Campaign for Real Ale feared some pubs would stay shut for good unless an exception was made for the hospitality industry.
Chief executive Tom Stainer said: “The harsh reality of this announcement is that many pubs just won’t be able to pay towards wages, National Insurance and pension contributions on top of existing costs and during periods of reduced trade due to social distancing measures reducing capacity.
“Those smaller pubs that are unsuitable for social distancing … that might not be able to reopen until much later in the year, won’t have any income at all to pay these extra staff costs.
“This will leave pubs with an impossible choice between taking on more debt, letting staff go, or calling it a day and closing down their businesses for good.”