Lockdown rule-breakers: what UK ministers said

Paul MacInnes
Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

When members of the government have spoken publicly about breaches of lockdown, their message has been consistent: obey the rules.

Since the UK was told to stay at home at the end of March, several high-profile figures have been caught breaking those rules.

Before this weekend, the most prominent example of a lockdown rule-breaker was Prof Neil Ferguson. The Imperial College epidemiologist, whose modelling on coronavirus risks influenced the government, was found to have been visited at his home by his lover on at least two occasions.

Ferguson resigned from his position as an adviser to the government on 6 May. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said he had been left speechless by Ferguson’s behaviour.

“Prof Ferguson is a very eminent and impressive scientist and the science that he has done has been an important part of what we’ve listened to,” Hancock told Sky News at the time. “I think he took the right decision to resign. I think the social distancing rules are very important and people should follow them.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, had a similar response: “Scientists like him have told us we should not be doing it, so surely in his case it is a case of we have been doing as he says and he has been doing as he wants to.

“He has peculiarly breached his own guidelines and for an intelligent man I find that very hard to believe. It risks undermining the government’s lockdown message.”

A month earlier, Dr Catherine Calderwood was forced to resign as Scotland’s chief medical officer after she was found to have repeatedly visited her second home on the coast of Fife.

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Jackson Carlaw, said it was right for her to have resigned. “There cannot be one rule for the bosses and another one for everyone else,” he said.

A week after Calderwood’s resignation, the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, was revealed to have visited his parents’ home in Shropshire, 40 miles from his home in Herefordshire, while also continuing to work in London.

Although there was little public support for him from fellow members of the government, Jenrick’s behaviour was cleared by the prime minister, whose spokesman said: “We’re confident that he complied with the social distancing rules.”

There was some criticism of Jenrick from backbench Tory MPs, who anonymously called for his resignation in the Daily Mail. More off-the-record remarks were made in the Sunday Telegraph at the beginning of this month in support of tougher enforcement of lockdown rules by police.

A senior government source told the paper: “Thanks to the enormous sacrifices of the British people, we have succeeded in protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed.

“The vast majority of people have followed the rules but in the next phase of our fight it will be even more critical that a small minority of rule-breakers do not put the rest of us at risk. That is why we will give the police tougher powers to stamp down hard on rule-breakers.”