Coronavirus: PM says it was 'reasonable' for Cummings to travel 260 miles during lockdown

Boris Johnson has backed his top aide Dominic Cummings after it emerged he travelled 260 miles from London to Durham during lockdown.

The prime minister's chief adviser, who played a big role in drawing up the UK's lockdown rules, travelled from his London home with his wife and son to stay with his elderly parents - even after developing coronavirus symptoms.

Durham Police confirmed they spoke to the owners of a property on 31 March - a week after the prime minister imposed the lockdown - after a call from someone reporting they had seen Mr Cummings in the area.

But Downing Street says nobody related to Mr Cummings was spoken to by police, and insists his actions were reasonable.

"Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for," Number 10 said in a statement.

"His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside. At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally."

Analysis: Number 10 statement raises more questions

By Rob Powell, political correspondent

It's very hard to see how Mr Cummings has complied with coronavirus guidelines when rule number one is to stay at home and self-isolate if anyone in your household has symptoms.

Families who have struggled with the virus may wonder why the top adviser was not able to get help with shopping from family and friends at his London home, rather than making the 260-mile trip to Durham.

Downing Street has also not addressed who cared for Mr Cummings's young son after he had travelled to the North East.

Anonymous allies suggested last night that grandparents had helped. If true, that would be a further breach of lockdown rules, potentially exposing two vulnerable individuals to the virus.

Then there is the tacit accusation from Number 10 that Durham Constabulary lied to the press when it said officers had spoken to Mr Cummings's family about the trip.

Opposition parties said Mr Cummings's position is "untenable".

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, told Sky News: "He must go. He should either resign or the prime minister should sack him.

"When millions of people have sacrificed so much... it looks quite outrageous that the prime minister's top adviser should breach the rules. The prime minister has got to make his position clear. I can't see that this is anything other than a breach of the guidelines."

He also questioned why Mr Cummings would choose to self-isolate with his elderly parents, who are in the "vulnerable category".

"I don't think there can be one rule for everyone else and a different rule for the prime minister's top team," said Mr Davey.

"I can't see how Dominic Cummings is going to wriggle out of this one."

A Labour spokesperson said: "The lockdown rules were very clear: if you or anyone in your household was suspected of having COVID-19 you must immediately self-isolate and not leave the house.

"Number 10's statement also raises more questions than it answers. We are still unclear who knew about this decision and when, whether this was sanctioned by the prime minister and whether Number 10 is now questioning the validity of the statement from Durham Police."

A joint investigation by The Guardian and the Daily Mirror revealed that Mr Cummings escaped the capital at the same time as the PM was instructing people to stay at home and not travel to their second homes - with fines in place for those flouting the rules.

A Number 10 spokesperson had confirmed on 30 March that Mr Cummings was self-isolating after suffering COVID-19 symptoms.

The newspapers said a local resident saw Mr Cummings at the doorstep of his parents' home with a child, believed to be his son, on 5 April.

Sky's deputy political editor Sam Coates said after the news broke: "Dominic Cummings is an essential person in this government in the view of many people in Downing Street. They will fight very hard to keep him."

He added: "There is going to be an almighty fight in the days to come over Dominic Cummings's future but don't expect Boris Johnson to lose him in a hurry."

Sources close to Mr Cummings earlier cited comments made by deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries, who suggested in "exceptional circumstances" parents too unwell to look after a child could rely on family support, among other options.

But Dr Harries made her remarks almost two weeks after Mr Cummings travelled north.

Senior members of government have put their support behind Mr Cummings, including Michael Gove, who said: "Caring for your wife and child is not a crime."

Dominic Raab tweeted: "It's reasonable and fair to ask for an explanation on this. And it has been provided: two parents with Coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child. Those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror."

But the Scottish National Party's (SNP) Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Cummings's position was "completely untenable", adding: "He must resign or be sacked."

Breaches of lockdown restrictions have recently led to some high-profile resignations.

Scotland's chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood quit her post after it emerged she had twice visited a second home in Fife.

Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the government's most high-profile scientific advisers, resigned from the SAGE committee after it emerged a woman from outside his household had visited his home on two occasions.

Durham Police said given the "whole ethos of the guidance was to reduce spread... travelling to County Durham when known to be infected was most unwise".

"To beat this crisis we need to be selfless as millions have been," acting commissioner Steve White said.

"Incidents such as this do not help."

A timeline of Dominic Cummings during lockdown:

18 March: At his Downing Street briefing the PM said: "Children should not be left with older grandparents, or older relatives, who may be particularly vulnerable or fall into some of the vulnerable groups."

22 March: Government advice is that people must remain in their primary residence and not travel to their second homes: "Leaving your home - the place you live - to stay at another home is not allowed."

23 March: Strict lockdown rules are imposed which mean people can only leave their houses for essential travel.

27 March: Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus. Mr Cummings is seen running along Downing Street.

Weekend of 28 and 29 March: Over this weekend, Mr Cummings developed coronavirus symptoms, Downing Street later confirmed.

31 March: Mr Cummings travelled to his family's farm in Durham - and it was on this date that Mr Cummings's family were spoken to by police.

10 April: Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said being too ill to look after a small child was an "exceptional circumstance" and she pointed to accessing family support, among other options.

14 April: Mr Cummings is pictured in Downing Street after recovering from coronavirus.