Government scientific advisors refuse to be drawn into Dominic Cummings row

28 May 2020, 18:40

PM refuses to let chief scientist and medical officer answer Cummings question

By Megan White

Scientific advisors Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have both refused to be drawn into the Dominic Cummings row, saying they don’t want to be “pulled into politics.”

During Thursday’s government coronavirus press briefing, Boris Johnson refused to let the pair answer questions on the row to "protect them" from a "political argument".

Earlier today, Durham Police concluded that the senior aide would have been in breach of lockdown rules had he been stopped by a police officer when he drove to Barnard Castle, but the force will not take any further action against him.

Read more: PM says people can meet outdoors in 'socially distanced' groups of up to six from Monday

The Prime Minister said: "I've said quite a lot on this matter already and what I also note is that what Durham police said was that they were going to take no action and that the matter was closed.

"And I intend to draw a line under the matter, as I said yesterday to the Parliamentary Liaison Committee."

(left to right) Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty
(left to right) Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty. Picture: PA

Speaking to the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, who raised the issue, he added: "I know that you've asked Chris and Patrick but I'm going to interpose myself if I may and protect them from what I think would be an unfair and unnecessary attempt to ask any political questions.

"It's very, very important that our medical officers and scientific advisers do not get dragged into what I think most people would recognise is fundamentally a political argument."

Mr Johnson jumped in again when questions were aimed at Sir Patrick and Prof Whitty about Dominic Cummings, telling the briefing: "It's very important our advisers are protected from being dragged into political controversy."

Asked if they were comfortable with the PM telling them they could not answer questions about Mr Cummings, Prof Whitty replied: "The desire to not get pulled into politics is far stronger on the part of Sir Patrick and me than it is in the Prime Minister."

Sir Patrick added: "I'm a civil servant, I'm politically neutral, I don't want to get involved in politics at all."

Mr Johnson noted: "Good. Unfortunately I have no choice."

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The PM also denied that the public will fail to heed the coronavirus advice because of the actions of Dominic Cummings.

He said: "No, I don't think that people will respond differently, I think people will listen very carefully to what the messages are."

Mr Johnson announced a "limited and cautious" easing to coronavirus lockdown measures in England.

He said five key tests had been met showing that the outbreak was being contained.

He said that non-essential retail could be reopened from June 15, among other measures and said that from Monday up to six people could meet outside in parks and private gardens provided social distancing rules were maintained.

It was reported earlier today that Mr Johnson would allow people to meet outdoors for the first time since lockdown started on March 23.

At the moment only two people can meet up outside in a park or front garden. However, the guidance has forbidden people meeting up in their back gardens which critics claim is an arbitrary distinction.

People will now be able to enjoy social gatherings such as barbecues.