Dominic Cummings has said he does not regret travelling 260 miles to County Durham to self-isolate despite calls for him to be sacked amid repeated claims he broke lockdown rules.
The senior adviser to Boris Johnson refused to apologise during an extraordinary Downing Street press conference and said he had behaved reasonably and legally.
He also said he did not ask the prime minister about the decision to drive from London to a property on his family’s land, which led to questions over whether he had broken coronavirus lockdown rules.
Confirming reports that he had been spotted near the beauty spot of Barnard Castle, some 40 miles from Durham, Cummings said he drove there on 12 April, but insisted this was only to test if he was fit to go back to London following his illness.
He said he stopped the car so his child could go to the toilet and play in some woods with his wife. He added that he also got out when he felt ill for “15 minutes”, sitting about 15 metres from his car. He said at no time did he break social distancing guidelines.
Lockdown rules at the time said you should only leave the house for essential reasons, like shopping or exercise.
Johnson told the daily Downing Street press conference soon after Cummings’ appearance that regretted the “confusion and anger” caused by the row. He refused to respond to further questions about Cummings’ actions, saying it was a matter for his senior adviser to deal with.
When asked if he was prepared to revisit his decision to support Cummings if it started to impact public trust in the government’s public health messages, the PM said that he could not give anyone “unconditional backing”.
But he stressed that he did not believe that any of his staff in Downing Street had done anything to undermine the lockdown messaging. The PM also appeared to lend weight to Cummings’ account of travelling to Castle Barnard, stating the virus had seemingly impacted his own eyesight.
The prime minister also announced during the briefing that all shops will reopen next month.
What did Cummings say?
Cummings was unrepentant throughout his public statement as he outlined his thinking behind the decision to travel to Durham on 27 March and stay in a property on his family’s farm.
“I don’t regret what I did,” he said. “I think reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in these circumstances.
“I think what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances.
“The rules made clear that if you are dealing with small children that can be exceptional circumstances.”
Cummings had said there was “nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to COVID” if he and his wife became too ill from coronavirus.
His house has become a “target” he said, adding that he wanted to feel his family were safe and could get support from family for shopping and emergencies.
Cummings admitted to reporters in the Downing Street garden press conference: “I did not ask the prime minister about this decision.”
Johnson was ill himself and had “huge problems to deal with”, Cummings said, and he had to use his own judgement.
He planned to speak to the PM when the “situation clarified”, he added, though he admitted that “arguably, this was a mistake”.
What did he admit to?
-Cummings admitted he travelled to his family’s farm because he feared both his wife, who had been taken ill that day, and himself would catch COVID-19 and therefore be unable to take care of their child.
NHS guidance at the time stated that anyone self-isolating should not leave their home. In his statement, Cummings pointed to additional guidance which states that “if you are living with children, keep following this advice to the best of your ability. However we are aware that not these [self-isolating] measures will be possible.”
Cummings has relied heavily on his interpretation of this additional guidance as proof that he acted within the letter of the guidance and used his judgement in a reasonable manner.
The Labour MP Jess Phillips has criticised Cummings’ interpretation of the regulations in a Twitter post.
The regulation Cummings is leaning on was put in because of domestic and child abuse in the home. To say to people who felt their children were not safe could leave. It was not because of childcare crisis, it might lead to confusion but that was what it was for.— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) May 25, 2020
-Cummings admitted that he left the property in Durham on 3 April to collect his child from hospital, after he fell ill the night before with Cummings’ wife, Mary Wakefield.
However, Wakefield - who writes for the Spectator magazine - has previously written in a column that her husband did not leave bed for 10 days - “day in, day out” - during his period of self-isolation.
-Having sought expert medical advice on 11 April, Cummings said he was told it was safe for him to return to work and seek childcare. The next day, Cummings admits, because his wife was worried his illness might have affected his eyesight, they went for a short drive to ensure he could drive safely.
The family drove for half an hour to the outskirts of Barnard Castle town. They parked by a river, he said, and when he felt sick they walked to the nearby riverbank where they sat for 15 minutes.
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Returning to the car, an elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognise him, he said, adding that his wife wished him Happy Easter.
They stopped again on the way home, for a toilet break for their son. All three of them got out of the car and “were briefly in the woods”.
-Cummings also appeared to admit that, despite a brief conversation with Johnson after Cummings had returned to work (the details of which neither men can remember), the prime minister had not quizzed his most senior adviser any further about his actions or whether he had abided by social distancing rules.
Cummings fervently denied reports that he went back to Durham after returning to London on April 13, as has been reported, and insisted photos and data on his phone “prove this to be false”.
He also said reports that the death of his uncle, who had coronavirus, had influenced his behaviour were “false”.
Cummings said that at “no point” during his time in Durham did “any of the three of us enter my parents’ house or sister’s house”.
He said their only exchanges were “shouted conversations at a distance” and his sister left shopping outside for them.
Demands for Cummings to quit
A spokesman for the Labour Party said: “The British people were looking for at least an apology from Dominic Cummings for breaking the lockdown. They got none.
“Millions of people have made extraordinary sacrifices during the lockdown. Families have been forced apart, sometimes in the most tragic of circumstances. They stayed at home to protect the NHS and save lives.
“And yet, the message from this Government is clear: it’s one rule for Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, another for everybody else.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP said Boris Johnson had “no option” but to sack Dominic Cummings, and his failure to do “is a gross failure of leadership”.
He added: “What should have been a resignation statement turned out to be a botched PR exercise that changes nothing. It is now beyond doubt Dominic Cummings broke multiple lockdown rules.
“There was no apology and no contrition from Mr Cummings for his behaviour – and now, following this unrepentant press conference, there are no excuses left for him.
“He has done nothing but double down on the double standards he has displayed and which millions of people across the UK are furious about.”
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