Dominic Cummings still under fire over lockdown breach allegations

Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor

Dominic Cummings remains under fire over allegations he breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions, after he said he does not regret his actions and declined to apologise.

In an extraordinary press conference in the 10 Downing Street garden, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser sought to defend his decision to drive to County Durham from London in March.

Mr Cummings said he made the trip because of fears over a lack of childcare if he became incapacitated with the virus, and concerns about his family’s safety – but revealed that despite the backlash he has “not considered” resigning.

The political storm overshadowed an announcement by Boris Johnson that all shops across England will be able to open next month if they can meet the coronavirus guidelines to protect shoppers and workers.

Opposition leaders will hold talks on Tuesday morning to discuss public health messaging amid the row.

Mr Cummings’ defence of his actions failed to win over some newspapers, with the right-leaning Daily Mail and the left-leaning Daily Mirror running almost identical headlines stating: “No apology, no regrets.”

Outlining his trip to the North East, the adviser told reporters how his wife, the journalist Mary Wakefield, fell ill on March 27 – leading him to swiftly leave Number 10 to return home.

After a couple of hours, she felt better and Mr Cummings went back to Downing Street. But that evening he said he discussed the situation with his wife – including the fact that many in Number 10 had developed coronavirus symptoms.

Mr Cummings said he was worried that if they both fell ill, there was “nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to Covid”.

The family drove to Durham that evening and did not stop on the way, he said. They stayed in an “isolated property” on his father’s farm, where the following day he woke up in pain and “clearly had Covid symptoms”.

Mr Cummings said that by April 11 he was still feeling “weak and exhausted” but had no coronavirus symptoms, so thought he would be able to return to work the following week – possibly part-time.

(PA Graphics)

But he said that because his eyesight had been affected by the disease, his wife did not want to risk the long drive back to London, so they went on a “short drive” to Barnard Castle – around 25 miles away from where he was isolating.

“We did not visit the castle, we did not walk around the town,” he insisted, but said that he had felt a “bit sick” so they had walked about 10 to 15 metres to the riverbank where they sat for about 15 minutes until he felt better.

The family returned to London on April 13, and he went back to work the next day, Mr Cummings said.

In the hour-long press conference, he declined to apologise for his actions, but conceded that “reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances”.

However, he said: “I don’t regret what I did… 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.

“And I think that the situation that I was in was exceptional circumstances, and the way that I dealt with it was the least risk to everybody concerned if my wife and I had both been unable to look after our four-year-old.”

Elsewhere:

– Two people died in separate incidents along the Cornish coastline on bank holiday Monday. There are currently no RNLI lifeguards on UK beaches after the rollout of the seasonal lifeguard service was paused due to the pandemic.

– In a sign of businesses returning to normal, Poundland said another 26 of its stores which have been closed throughout the pandemic will throw open their doors from Tuesday.

– Boris Johnson said the Government would set out formal assessment of the five tests it set for adjusting the lockdown later this week as part of the three-weekly review on Thursday.

– The Department for Health said 36,914 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus as of 5pm on May 24.

Before the press conference, Mr Cummings was facing calls from several Tory backbenchers to quit or be sacked, amid warnings that his actions had “undermined” efforts to fight coronavirus.

At least 15 Conservative MPs said Mr Cummings should go, while several others have spoken out against his actions.

A spokesman for the Labour Party said following the press conference: “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 Mr Johnson had “no option” but to sack Mr Cummings, and his failure to do “is a gross failure of leadership”.