Boris Johnson has backed his chief adviser, saying he had acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity” despite breaching lockdown restrictions to travel to his parents’ home.
Addressing the controversy surrounding Dominic Cummings at the government’s daily briefing on Sunday, the prime minister said he thought Cummings had “followed the instincts of every father and every parent” in making the 260-mile trip from London to Durham with his wife and child.
He 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.”
He added: “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.”
Cummings had travelled with his wife, who was suffering from suspected COVID-19, and his son from London to Durham in late March.
Downing Street claimed he did so to ensure his son could be cared for by his sister and nieces if he and his wife became too ill.
According to a joint investigation by The Guardian and Daily Mirror, Cummings was spotted twice in the north-east over the course of almost a week, between March 31 and April 5 – eight days after lockdown began.
Johnson’s defence of his top aide on Sunday comes after Number 10 had offered its support to Cummings in a statement on Saturday, saying it was “essential” for him to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.
As questions during the briefing were dominated by queries about Cummings, Johnson continued to defend his aide.
In response to one, he said:“I can totally get why people might feel so confused and so offended by the idea that it is one thing for people here and another thing for others.
“But really having looked at what happened, having looked at his intentions and what he was trying to do for the good of his family, I really think most people will understand what he was doing and, above all, what he did – if you look at the measures that he took – they were designed to stop the spread of the virus.
“I think that he, at all times, behaved responsibly and legally.”
Dismissive and arrogant from the Prime Minister.
Cummings did have an alternative.
No acknowledgement whatsoever that this is undermining confidence in the Government’s Covid-19 response and will cost lives.
Cummings must go.
— Jonathan Bartley (@jon_bartley) May 24, 2020
The government’s renewed backing of Cummings sparked anger from politicians, with one accusing Johnson of being “dismissive and arrogant”.
Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said he was “very disappointed” with the Prime Minister’s decision to defend Dominic Cummings.
He told the PA news agency: “I’m very disappointed, I think it was an opportunity to put this to bed and I fear that now the story is simply going to run and run.”
@BorisJohnson 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 @BorisJohnson displays a failure of leadership and undermines his own public health messages.
— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) May 24, 2020
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said in a statement: “Boris Johnson’s breathtaking arrogance sends out the message that there is one rule for the Tory government and another for the rest of us.
“He is trying to take the public for fools, but I have no doubt that people will see right through it.
“Families across all parts of the country have struggled through lockdown, without the ability to call on friends and family for childcare.
“In a desperate attempt to save his adviser, Boris Johnson has thrown public health advice and the solidarity and sacrifice of millions to the wind.
“The Prime Minister’s refusal to act demeans his office and will cause lasting damage to public confidence in the Tory government and its response to Covid-19.
“There is no question that Dominic Cummings broke the rules the minute he chose to drive to Durham. He is fatally undermining the public health message and must go.”
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, tweeted: “Dismissive and arrogant from the Prime Minister. Cummings did have an alternative.
”No acknowledgement whatsoever that this is undermining confidence in the Government’s Covid-19 response and will cost lives. Cummings must go.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips criticised Johnson’s comment that Cummings “followed the instincts of every father” in travelling to County Durham during lockdown, writing on Twitter: “The instincts of most other fathers in the country was to look after their partner and children at home.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Cummings was following his instincts, the rest of the country was following the rules. Where does that leave us if everyone now is to follow their instincts?”
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