Darren Adam 1am - 4am
Dominic Cummings to make public statement following accusations he broke lockdown
25 May 2020, 13:46
Dominic Cummings will make a statement this afternoon where he is expected to address allegations he breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Downing Street confirmed the prime minister's key adviser will make the statement, with Boris Johnson under mounting pressure to dismiss him over his lockdown trips.
The Prime Minister's aide is also understood to have agreed to take questions following the address in a highly unusual move for a government adviser.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said earlier: "If I were Prime Minister, I would have sacked him."
The Prime Minister chose to front the daily Downing Street Covid-19 briefing to publicly back Mr Cummings on Sunday, saying he had "acted responsibly, legally and with integrity" by driving 260 miles to County Durham to isolate and that "any parent would frankly understand what he did".
Members of the public also claimed to have seen Mr Cummings in Barnard Castle, a town 30 miles from Durham.
At least 15 Tory MPs have called for Mr Cummings to resign, along with scientific advisers who say Mr Cummings has "trashed" their advice.
But education secretary Gavin Williamson supported the prime minister and Mr Cummings this morning, saying: "My understanding is from what the Prime Minister said yesterday... is that at every stage Dominic Cummings followed and his family followed the guidance and at no stage did Dominic Cummings or his family break the law."
Acting Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, Steve White said today: “I am confident that thus far, Durham police has responded proportionately and appropriately to the issues raised concerning Mr Cummings.
“I have today written to the Chief Constable, asking her to establish the facts concerning any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter at any juncture.
“It will be for the Chief Constable to determine the operational response to this request and I am confident that with the resources at its disposal, the Force can show proportionality and fairness in what has become a major issue of public interest and trust.”
Returning to his home in north London yesterday Mr Cummings was confronted by a group of angry residents who labelled him "hypocrite" and shouted other angry abuse at him.
Tory backbenchers tore into Mr Johnson over his handling of the row, while scientists claimed the defence of Mr Cummings' interpretation of the lockdown rules undermined efforts to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
The storm over Mr Cummings' actions overshadowed Mr Johnson's latest signal that the lockdown is easing as the Prime Minister confirmed the phased reopening of England's primary schools will commence on June 1.
He is also, according to Government sources, set to reveal plans to ease restrictions for certain sectors of the economy - with the changes expected to signal the reopening of some non-essential shops - when the Cabinet meets on Monday.
Conservative MP David Warburton said his own father died alone as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, and that the Dominic Cummings story gives an impression of "double standards".
Mr Warburton said of Mr Cummings: "Ideally, if he broke the rules then he obviously should be subject to the same kind of consequences as anybody else who broke the rules."
He added: "To me, enough is really enough, I think he's damaging the Government and the country that he's supposed to be serving."
Former minister Paul Maynard said: "It is a classic case of 'do as I say, not as I do' - and it is not as if he was unfamiliar with guidance he himself helped draw up.
"It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable."
Senior Tory MP Simon Hoare, who had earlier called for Mr Cummings to go, later lamented Mr Johnson's press conference, telling the Daily Mail: "The PM's performance posed more questions than it answered. Any residual hope that this might die away in the next 24 hours is lost."
Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton said he was "unconvinced" by the PM's defence of Mr Cummings, while Tory grandee Lord Heseltine said it was "very difficult to believe there isn't a substance" in the allegations about Mr Cumming's movements.
"I think these unanswered questions are now on the agenda," he told the BBC, "and I don't think that this anxiety about the Government's position will end until we know the whole story."
Another Tory MP, Jason McCartney, said while it was important for people to show compassion during the crisis, Mr Cummings had to go because the "perceived hypocrisy of the rule makers potentially threatens the success of any future measures" under a second wave of the coronavirus.
Social psychologist Professor Stephen Reicher, one of the scientists on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) - a subgroup of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which is advising ministers through the crisis - said Mr Johnson had "trashed" their advice.
Meanwhile, the PM also came in for stinging criticism from bishops, while Mr Cummings is likely to face further questioning after he was reported to Durham Constabulary over alleged sightings of him across the county during the lockdown period.
Church of England bishops accused the PM of treating people "as mugs" and with "no respect" after he opted to stick by his chief aide.
The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, tweeted: "The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs?"
Mr Cummings travelled to County Durham in March to self-isolate with his family while official guidelines warned against long-distance journeys, apparently because he feared that he and his wife would be left unable to care for their son if both incapacitated by coronavirus symptoms.
Further reports also suggested the 48-year-old took a second trip to the North East in April, having already returned to London following his recovery from Covid-19 - a disease which has seen more than 45,000 people in the UK die after contracting it, according to the latest available data.
And, in developments which will pile more pressure on the Government, an alleged eyewitness, who says he saw Mr Cummings on a third occasion on April 12, told the Mirror he had reported the controversial figure to Durham Constabulary for a suspected breach of lockdown.
Robin Lees, a retired teacher, thinks he spotted Mr Cummings out in Barnard Castle in County Durham on Easter Sunday, at a time the 71-year-old reckons he should have still been quarantined, seeing as police said his father had confirmed he was isolating in the region as of March 31.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was asked about the alleged April 12 outing during a media round and said, if it took place, the visit "would have been outside the 14-day period" for self-isolation.
It comes as Councillor Amanda Hopgood, the leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on Durham County Council, said she had written to Durham police's Chief Constable Jo Farrell after being made aware of a number of sightings of the PM's senior aide in the area in April and May.
Rallying against the tide of condemnation levelled at their son, Mr Cummings parents, Morag and Robert, defended him in an interview with the New Statesman.
Morag said the family had been grieving after her brother- Lord Justice Laws - died on April 5 after contracting Covid-19 while ill in hospital.
She said: "I have no other comment to make other than to say that my brother died on Palm Sunday, and the press has not been cognisant of that fact, either from Dominic's point of view or from mine."
The day his uncle died and his boss was admitted to hospital for his coronavirus symptoms, an unnamed neighbour told the Mirror and the Guardian they saw Mr Cummings in the garden of his parents' home as Abba's Dancing Queen was playing loudly.
His father added that he was "disgusted" at the way the press had treated his son during the coverage.
Police attended Mr Cummings' London home on Sunday afternoon after it was "reported that a large crowd of people were outside the address".
Scotland Yard would not confirm who had called officers.
Footage posted on social media also showed Mr Cummings was heckled by a crowd of onlookers as he returned to his house in the capital after the Downing Street press conference.
Those gathered called him a "hypocrite" and shouted "resign".