Scientists accuse Boris Johnson of 'trashing' their advice after he defends Dominic Cummings

24 May 2020, 20:13

Boris Johnson has come under fire from his own scientists
Boris Johnson has come under fire from his own scientists. Picture: PA/Twitter

By Kate Buck

Scientists who advise the government have tonight rounded on the Prime Minister following his decision keep his chief aide Dominic Cummings despite widespread allegations he broke lockdown rules.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza group on Behaviour (SPI-B) was convened to advise SAGE - the group which provides scientific advice to the government - on how to get the trust of the British people so they would best follow lockdown rules and halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the government's own documents, SPI-B's role is to provide advice "aimed at anticipating and helping people adhere to interventions that are recommended by medical or epidemiological experts."

But Stephen Reicher, one of those on SPI-B, has said Mr Johnson is in charge of a "bad government" and accused the Prime Minister of "trashing" all the advice they gave.

Taking to Twitter, Mr Reicher said: "As one of those involved in SPI-B, the Government advisory group on behavioural science, I can say that in a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control COVID-19.

"Be open and honest, we said. Trashed. Respect the public, we said. Trashed Ensure equity, so everyone is treated the same, we said. Trashed. Be consistent we said. Trashed. Make clear 'we are all in it together'. Trashed.

"It is very hard to provide scientific advice to a government which doesn't want to listen to science. I hope, however, that the public will read our papers and continue to make up for this bad government with their own good sense."

READ MORE: Boris Johnson defends Dominic Cummings over claims he repeatedly breached lockdown

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Mr Reicher's damning statement was shortly echoed by two other people on SPI-B, Robert West and Susan Michie, who both said they "agree" with what he said.

Mr Richie's statement calls into questions Mr Johnsons repeated claim he and his government "followed the science" on their decisions regarding lockdown, and the subsequent decision to relax measures.

The news is likely to be a further twist of the knife for Boris Johnson, who has faced a barrage of criticism for keeping Mr Cummings in his position, despite claims he travelled over 250 miles to Durham to visit his parents.

It was later alleged he travelled to Durham a number of times, despite Mr Cumming's claim he had gone to Durham to self-isolate near his parents over fears his son wouldn't have adequate care.

Mr Johnson has also faced a number of calls from his own MPs for Mr Cummings to be removed from his position, but in a statement from Downing Street today said his most senior aide "acted responsibly, legally and with integrity".

He added: "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."

Mr Cummings pictured leaving Downing Street after the public were told he would be keeping his job
Mr Cummings pictured leaving Downing Street after the public were told he would be keeping his job. Picture: PA

But despite his insistence Mr Cummings did nothing wrong, the Prime Minister

The initial claims Mr Cummings had broken lockdown rules were published on Friday a joint investigation by the Guardian and Mirror newspapers.

A number of Tory MPs - including the Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer - tweeted messages of support for Mr Cummings' decision to make the journey despite having spent weeks telling the public they needed to remain home to stop the spread of coronavirus.

But on Saturday evening the same newspapers published the next part of their story alleging Mr Cummings had been seen in the north East on two other occasions - on 12 April visiting Barnard Castle, and on 19 April walking with his wife in Houghal Woods.

But he had been photographed in London on 14 April, suggesting he may have travelled back to Durham after returning to his main residence in the Capital.

Mr Johnson said some of these claims were "palpably false" - although declined to answer which ones were - during Sunday's press conference.

When specifically asked about the journey to Barnard Castle by a journalist, Mr Johnson did nothing to deny this claim.

But Mr Johnson has refused to get rid of his senior aide
But Mr Johnson has refused to get rid of his senior aide. Picture: PA

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."

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