A government minister has resigned over Dominic Cummings’s refusal to apologise for his actions during lockdown as Boris Johnson faced a growing backlash over the actions of his senior aide.
Douglas Ross, the Conservative MP for Moray, announced on Twitter that he had tendered his resignation as under secretary of state for Scotland.
Ross wrote: “I haven't commented publicly on the situation with Dominic Cummings as I have waited to hear the full details.
“I welcome the statement to clarify matters, but there remains aspects of the explanation which I have trouble with. As a result I have resigned as a government minister.”
The first resignation over the allegations rocking the UK government came as Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove sought to defend his long-standing ally as having acted in an “entirely reasonable” way, and within the law.
Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw joined at least 25 Tory MPs in having called for the aide to quit or be sacked by the PM.
Number 10 insisted the PM had not split the government by backing Cummings amid concerns over how the decision will affect the public, police and health workers during the pandemic.
‘Many disagree with Cummings’ actions,’ says Robert Jenrick
But communities secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Radio 2 that his own postbag showed “many people still disagree” with Cummings’ actions and could not rule out further ministerial resignations.
There was fury on the Tory benches as MPs reflected on the correspondence they had received from constituents.
Former attorney general Jeremy Wright called for Cummings to quit, saying his actions may technically have been within the rules, but efforts to combat COVID-19 had been due to “people accepting wholeheartedly not just the letter of the restrictions that have been set out, but also their spirit”.
Former minister Robert Goodwill told the PA news agency: “I’ve been contacted by over 400 constituents who, with one or two exceptions, have been critical of Mr Cummings and his statement yesterday has done nothing to convince them otherwise.
“I think that the best way for the prime minister, who I’m a massive fan of, to show he’s in charge of the situation is to relieve himself of Mr Cummings’ services.”
“I think that the best way for the Prime Minister, who I’m a massive fan of, to show he’s in charge of the situation is to relieve himself of Mr Cummings’ services.”
Meanwhile Simon Jupp – a member of the 2019 intake of MPs – suggested that the PM’s aide should consider his position, saying he has felt “anger, disappointment and frustration” during the “deeply unhelpful distraction”.
Cummings situation ‘a deeply unhelpful distraction’, says MP
Former chief whip Mark Harper said Cummings “should have offered to resign, and the prime minister should have accepted his resignation”.
Ex-minister Stephen Hammond said: “Public adherence to the rules is achieved by consent in this country and that is made much harder if people feel it is one rule for them and another for senior Government advisers.”
We cannot throw away valuable public & political good will any longer. It’s humiliating & degrading to their office to see ministers put out agreed lines in defence of an advisor. This is a time of national emergency and our focus must be unrelenting. We owe it to the nation.— William Wragg MP (@William_Wragg) May 26, 2020
William Wragg, Tory chairman of the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee, said it was “humiliating” to see ministers defending Cummings.
“We cannot throw away valuable public and political goodwill any longer,” he said.
And veteran Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said the backbench 1922 Committee should tell Mr Johnson that Mr Cummings has to go.
The Westminster opposition leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party also wrote to the PM urging him to sack his top adviser “without further delay”.
In a statement announcing his decision to quit, Ross said: "I have constituents who didn't get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn't visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government.
"I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right."
I haven't commented publicly on the situation with Dominic Cummings as I have waited to hear the full details. I welcome the statement to clarify matters, but there remains aspects of the explanation which I have trouble with. As a result I have resigned as a government Minister. pic.twitter.com/6yXLyMzItJ— Douglas Ross MP (@Douglas4Moray) May 26, 2020
Ross said that "while the intentions may have been well meaning", Cummings's interpretation of the rules was "not shared by the vast majority of people".
On Tuesday, No 10 reiterated its support for Cummings over allegations he breached the lockdown.
Johnson’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “From the prime minister’s point of view, he has set out that he believes Dominic Cummings acted reasonably, legally and with integrity and with care for his family and for others.”
Watch the video below
Downing Street declined to answer numerous unresolved queries, but Mr Gove said the journey, some 25 miles from where the aide was isolating, was “completely appropriate” because he was “preparing to return to work” by checking he was safe to drive the long trip back to London.
“It’d have been entirely within his right to return to work that day on the basis of the advice he had been given, that’s my understanding, so that drive was completely appropriate,” Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Other Conservative MPs speaking out over the matter on Tuesday included Mark Pawsey, MP for Rugby and Bulkington, who posted a weblink to a letter to his constituents about the matter, tweeted: “Mr Cummings has acted against the spirit of the lockdown and the Prime Minister should now ask for his resignation.”
In his letter, he wrote: “On the basis of what I heard, it is clear that while he believed he was acting within the letter of the law, he did the wrong thing and acted very much against the spirit of the lockdown rules.
“These are rules which so many ordinary people across the country have abided by. Furthermore, he has not expressed any regret for the damage his actions have caused to the Government, or to the sense of collective effort in staying at home, protecting the NHS and saving lives.”
He continued: “As such, I believe that it is wrong that Mr Cummings remains in an important post in Government. I had hoped that he would tender his resignation of his own accord. As he has failed to do so, I now believe it is right for the Prime Minister to ask for his resignation.”
A letter to the many constituents who have contacted me about Dominic Cummings will be sent out today and the text is now on my website. Mr Cummings has acted against the spirit of the lockdown and the Prime Minister should now ask for his resignation.https://t.co/0EmfWdeYZq— Mark Pawsey (@MarkPawsey) May 26, 2020
Craig Whittaker, Tory MP for Calder Valley, tweeted: “My view has not changed. I have no reason not to believe everything DC has explained. In that position I MAY have considered doing the same however he has to take responsibility for his actions. You can’t advise the PM who advises the nation and then find a loophole for yourself.”
Elsewhere, Wales’ health minister Vaughan Gething said that if he had driven to the other side of the UK during the lockdown, he would have resigned.
“If I had driven to the other end of the country to see a family member when I thought my wife could be potentially symptomatic with COVID-19 that would have been a clear breach of the rules in place at the time and my position as a minister would have been untenable,” he said.
Coronavirus: what happened today
Read more about COVID-19
How to get a coronavirus test if you have symptoms
What you can and can’t do under lockdown rules
In pictures: How UK school classrooms could look in new normal
How public transport could look after lockdown
How our public spaces will change in the future