Why Michael Gove was wrong to say Dominic Cummings’ drive to Barnard Castle was allowed

Michael Gove said on Sky News on Monday that 'you could drive at that time in order to take exercise'. (Sky News)
Michael Gove said on Sky News that 'you could drive at that time in order to take exercise'. (Sky News)

Michael Gove incorrectly said Dominic Cummings had been within the law to drive to Barnard Castle amid the row over whether Boris Johnson’s chief adviser broke lockdown rules.

Cummings said he drove to the town, about 30 miles from his parents’ property in Durham where he had been staying having suffered coronavirus symptoms, on 12 April.

He said this was to test whether he would be able to drive back to London the following day, having also suffered problems with his eyesight.

This was already in contravention with the government’s “stay at home” lockdown rules imposed on 23 March. It was only on 13 May that the restrictions were lifted to allow people to drive to outdoor open spaces “irrespective of distance”.

However, Gove – who employed Cummings as a special adviser between 2007 and 2014 – told Sky News that his journey was permitted under guidance jointly published by the National Police Chiefs' Council and College of Policing.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 26: Chief Advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings leaves his home on May 26, 2020 in London, England. On March 31st 2020 Downing Street confirmed to journalists that Dominic Cummings, senior advisor to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was self-isolating with COVID-19 symptoms at his home in North London. Durham police have confirmed that he was actually hundreds of miles away at his parent's house in the city having travelled with his wife and young son. (Photo by Kate Green/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Dominic Cummings leaves his home in Islington, north London, on Tuesday. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office minister told presenter Kay Burley: “It is the case that it was part of the National Police Chiefs' Council guidance that you could drive at that time in order to take exercise as well."

However, this document was issued to police forces “to help officers remain consistent”, rather than as public guidance.

Furthermore, it was published on 16 April, meaning the guidance wasn’t even in the public domain when Cummings drove to Barnard Castle on 12 April.

Yahoo News UK has approached the Cabinet Office for comment about Gove’s remarks, but has not received a response.

According to The Guardian, the document stated it was “lawful to drive for exercise” but that a prolonged drive for only brief exercise would “not likely” be a reasonable excuse.

Here is what Cummings said on Sunday about his journey to Barnard Castle:

“On Sunday, 12 April, 15 days after I had first displayed symptoms, I decided to return to work. My wife was very worried, particularly given my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease. She didn't want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child, given how ill I had been. We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely.

“We drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town. We did not visit the castle. We did not walk around the town. We parked by a river. My wife and I discussed the situation. We agreed that I could drive safely, we should turn around, go home.

“I felt a bit sick. We walked about 10 to 15 metres from the car to the river bank nearby. We sat there for about 15 minutes. We had no interactions with anybody. I felt better. We returned the car. An elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognise me. My wife wished him happy Easter from a distance, but we had no other interaction.

“We headed home. On the way home, our child needed the toilet. He was in the back seat of the car. We pulled over to the side of the road, my wife and child jumped out into the woods by the side of the road. They were briefly outside. I briefly joined them. They played for a little bit and then I got out of the car, went outside. We were briefly in the woods. We saw some people at a distance. But at no point did we break any social distancing rules. We then got back in the car and went home.”

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news, advice and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter

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

Help and advice

Read the full list of official FAQs here
10 tips from the NHS to help deal with anxiety
What to do if you think you have symptoms
How to get help if you've been furloughed