Boris Johnson defends Dominic Cummings over claims he repeatedly breached lockdown

24 May 2020, 17:04

Boris Johnson has publicly defended Dominic Cummings
Boris Johnson has publicly defended Dominic Cummings. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has defended senior adviser Dominic Cummings following claims that he repeatedly broke coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

The Prime Minister was drafted in for the government's daily coronavirus press briefing at the last minute, following allegations that his senior aide had broken lockdown rules by travelling to Durham from his London home on multiple occasions.

Mr Johnson's statement comes after a number of Conservative MPs came out on Sunday to call for Mr Cummings to either be sacked or to resign.

Mr Johnson, speaking from Downing Street, said: "I have had extensive face-to-face conversations with Dominic Cummings and I have concluded that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus - and when he had no alternative - I think he followed the instincts of every father and every parent.

"And I do not mark him down for that."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeated his call for an urgent public inquiry into Mr Cummings' actions following the press conference.

"This was a test of the Prime Minister and he has failed it," he wrote on Twitter.

"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.

"The Prime Minister’s actions have undermined confidence in his own public health message at this crucial time.

"Millions were watching for answers and they got nothing. That’s why the Cabinet Secretary must now launch an urgent inquiry."

Mr Cummings was reported to the police on Sunday night for an alleged breach of lockdown.

Ex-chief constable Mike Barton, who retired from the top job with Durham Police last year, accused him of "selfishly" ignoring the rules and risking lives by driving almost 260 miles north while he and his wife were showing coronavirus symptoms.

The Prime Minister said that although he takes the matter "very seriously," he believes that his senior aide "in every respect has acted responsibly and legally and with integrity."

Mr Johnson told the Downing Street press conference that "some" of the allegations about Dominic Cummings' behaviour during self-isolation were "palpably false."

"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."

Mr Johnson said that he did not believe the actions of Mr Cummings would undermine the coronavirus lockdown in England.

He said the "big question" that was being asked was: "Is this Government asking you - the people, the public - to do one thing, while senior people here in Government do something else?"

"Have we been asking you to make sacrifices, to obey social distancing - stay at home - while some people have been basically flouting those rules and endangering lives."

Boris Johnson said he "can totally get why people might feel so confused and so offended by the idea that it was one thing for people here and another thing for others,” but believes “most people will understand” what his senior aide did.

Green MP Caroline Lucas criticised Mr Johnson's defence of his senior aide, writing on Twitter: "Unbelievable - PM says Cummings has acted 'responsibly, legally and with integrity'.

"In fact he's acted arrogantly, illegally and with gross irresponsibility.

"Even by PM's own abysmal standards, this must surely be the lowest point."

Westminster group leader for the SNP, Ian Blackford, tweeted: "Boris Johnson told us to stay at home and to isolate if we had Covid-19. There was no caveat that this does not apply to Dominic Cummings.

"By supporting Cummings at his press conference Boris Johnson displays a failure of leadership and undermines his own public health messages."

When asked why Mr Cummings needed to travel to Durham when he has now said that his family did not care for his son, Mr Johnson said: "The guidance makes it very clear that where you have particular childcare needs that has got to be taken into account."

He added: "I have seen a lot of stuff in the last few days about this episode of self-isolation by Mr Cummings that does not seem to correspond remotely with reality.

"As far as I can see he stuck to the rules and he acted legally and responsibly with the sole objective of avoiding such contact as would spread the virus.

"His object was to stop the spread of the virus and he behaved in such a way as to do that."

Asked about Mr Cummings and advice for other people with childcare concerns during the lockdown, Mr Johnson said: "Looking at the very severe childcare difficulties that presented themselves to Dominic Cummings and his family, I think that what they did was totally understandable, there's actually guidance about that particular difficulty, about what you need to do about the pressures that families face when they have childcare needs.

"He found those needs where they could best be served, best be delivered and yes that did involve travel, but I have to say I think that looking at the situation, I think any father, any parent would frankly understand what he did and I certainly do and I spent a long time talking to him about it today."

However, the prime minister did not deny claims that Dominic Cummings visited Barnard Castle in April.

He said: "As for all the other allegations, I just repeat what I have said earlier on: I have looked at them carefully and I am content that at all times throughout his period in isolation, actually on both sides of that period, he behaved responsibly and correctly and with a view to defeating the virus and stopping the spread."

Scott MacNab, from the Scotsman, compared Mr Cummings' situation to that of Scotland's former chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood, who resigned after it emerged she had visited a second home.

Asked if his actions would undermine the public health message, Mr Johnson said: "No, because the sharp distinction is that unlike the lady who you mentioned, Mr Cummings actually went into lockdown, because he had symptoms, went into self-isolation for 14 days or more and that is what you should do.

"The particular circumstances of his isolation, as I've said now several times, were determined by the childcare needs of the family."