Boris Johnson to face questions from senior MPs over Cummings's lockdown travel

27 May 2020, 06:04

Boris Johnson is to face questions from senior MPs
Boris Johnson is to face questions from senior MPs. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson is to face scrutiny from senior MPs over the coronavirus crisis later today as calls for his key adviser to resign over his travel during lockdown continue to grow.

The Prime Minister is set to face questions on the decision of his top aide, Dominic Cummings, to travel from London to Durham during the shutdown.

However the PM will only briefly be quizzed on the matter by video link at the Commons Liaison Committee hearing from 4.30pm today.

As many as 40 Conservative MPs from all wings of the party have now publicly rebelled to demand Boris Johnson’s top aide goes over his 260-mile trip to Durham during lockdown.

Some senior ministers have expressed public support for Mr Cummings, despite reports a number of Cabinet members have privately called for him to be ousted from No 10.

With the controversy over Mr Cummings raging, it is understood MPs will have a maximum of 20 minutes in a 90-minute session to probe the situation when Mr Johnson appears before the Commons Liaison Committee.

Other aspects of the coronavirus crisis will also be discussed in the 20-minute slot.

In other developments:

- Childline is holding one counselling session on average every five minutes for young people worried about their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic

- A witness to an alleged lockdown breach by Mr Cummings said he has been interviewed by police

- Mr Johnson said an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak needs to take place

- Conservative MP Craig Whittaker told Newsnight that Mr Cummings' position was "untenable", adding: "I respect he is taking a decision but what I can't get my head around is why he can't take responsibility for that decision"

Liaison Committee chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin said: "I have got no intention of preventing any subject any member of the committee wants to raise."

The comments follow controversy over Sir Bernard's appointment to the committee chairmanship, with some MPs saying he is too close to the Prime Minister.

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Sir Bernard insisted the format for the session has been agreed by the committee. The group includes William Wragg, who has said it was "humiliating and degrading" to see ministers put out agreed lines in defence of Mr Cummings, and Caroline Nokes, who has informed her party whips there could not be "wriggle room" for some people when it comes to lockdown rules.

Also among those questioning the PM will be Labour chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee Yvette Cooper, and Tory chairman of the Health Committee Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Cummings said he had driven to Durham to isolate in a property on his father's farm because of concerns over care for his four-year-old son if both he and his wife were incapacitated by Covid-19.

But a growing number of Conservative MPs have voiced their frustration over Mr Cummings after he expressed "no regrets" about his trip to Durham.

On Tuesday, Douglas Ross, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland, quit the Government, saying he could not "in good faith" defend Mr Cummings' actions.

Tory grandee Sir Roger Gale said the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee should make it clear to the PM his adviser should go.

"The time I think has come for Mr Cummings to resign or for the PM to dispense of his services," the North Thanet MP told the PA news agency.

"There are people on the 1922 executive who are courageous, and that's their job.

"They are elected to tell the PM what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear."

Former health secretary Mr Hunt said he believed Mr Cummings broke lockdown rules on multiple occasions, but added he was not calling for the Prime Minister's adviser to resign and did not want a "scalp".

Former minister Stephen Hammond said his concern was "the distraction this is causing at a time of national crisis and the way it is undermining confidence in the public health message".

He added: "Public adherence to the rules is achieved by consent in this country and that is made much harder if people feel it is one rule for them and another for senior Government advisers."

In his televised speech on Monday, Mr Cummings said he had driven for half an hour and ended up by a riverbank on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town on Easter Sunday in a trip to test his eyesight before making the long journey back to London the following day.

The PM has also said an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak needs to take place.

He made the comments in a telephone call to the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday, Downing Street said.

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed with the PM, according to No 10.

Mr Johnson also spoke with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres about the Covid-19 outbreak.