Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 14 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Dominic Cummings says 'no regrets' over his travel during lockdown

British PM's top adviser breached lockdown with 420km journey to parents' house

The Prime Minister’s top aide on Monday refused to apologise for taking a long trip with his wife and young son, despite Britain being under coronavirus lockdown in April.

Dominic Cummings refused to resign and said he had “no regrets” over his decision to travel 420 kilometres from London to his parents’ home in Durham when he and his wife fell ill last month.

“I have not offered to resign,” Mr Cummings said. “I have not considered it.”

He held a rare briefing to deflect the growing anger from across the political and public spectrum in what appeared to be a flagrant breach of the law.

But Mr Cummings said “exceptional circumstances” regarding children meant he had not breached emergency legislation.

He said he did not to tell Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the drive before leaving London but had studied the guidance and believed he was acting "reasonably" and within the law.

Mr Cummings did, however, regret not making a statement earlier.

“I don't think I am so different and that it is one rule for me and one rule for other people,” he said in the Downing Street garden.

Mr Cummings fielded questions over his trip to Durham, which critics say violated the lockdown rules he helped to create. Getty Images
Mr Cummings fielded questions over his trip to Durham, which critics say violated the lockdown rules he helped to create. Getty Images

Mr Johnson was drawn into the furore on Sunday after he refused to sack his aide.

He has resolutely backed Mr Cummings and Cabinet ministers have been sent out to pass on the message that the adviser did not break the rules.

But the decision to keep him in his post has been widely condemned by fellow Conservatives and people across Britain who have obeyed the lockdown rules.

Healthcare staff, scientists and the bereaved have led a popular backlash against the journey, which many believe "broke the spirit" of the orders.

Dr Dominic Pimenta, a cardiologist, tweeted a picture of himself in full protective equipment, saying he had not visited his parents since January as he strictly followed government lockdown rules.

“Frankly, Cummings spits in the face of all our efforts, the whole National Health Service," Dr Pimenta said.

"If he doesn't resign, I will.”

He was joined by a wave of others across Britain who were infuriated by Mr Cummings's actions.

He travelled from London to his family home in Durham in north-east England with his wife and son, 4.

Both parents believed they had Covid-19 and wanted to have relatives near by to help if they became seriously ill.

Radio stations, news websites and Twitter accounts have been deluged with comments by families outraged over what appears to be one rule for top government officials and another for the public.

Hannah Hatt, an author, was among hundreds of people who have not been able to visit loved ones during their last days because of coronavirus restrictions.

“I went against instincts and watched/listened to my father's last hours battling cancer via WhatsApp and phone instead of being by his side," Ms Hatt tweeted.

"But our PM said it was acceptable for Dominic Cummings to visit his parents not once, but twice. I feel sick and ashamed."

Senior police officers have expressed concern that the refusal to sack Mr Cummings will make it much harder to enforce the emergency coronavirus laws enacted in March.

“I shall go out today and meet friends I have not seen for two months," wrote one commentator on The Times news website.

"And if questioned by the authorities, I shall simply employ a variation of what will, no doubt, become known as the 'Cummings' Defence' to explain my actions.”

Mr Cummings experienced the growing fury when on Sunday he arrived at his London home to a hostile crowd of neighbours who shouted “hypocrite” at him from their windows.

He walked past a waiting crowd of onlookers who complained angrily about not being able to visit sick and dying relatives in hospital.

Television presenter Piers Morgan summed up the general mood, tweeting: “Never seen Twitter so united.

"Journalists, pundits, politicians, celebrities and the public all enraged by what they just heard, regardless of their political persuasion.

"We all know people who've lost loved ones and couldn't be there for them because they obeyed the rules.”

Despite the bitter reaction, Mr Johnson said after a long meeting with Mr Cummings that he would remain in post.

“I've concluded that in travelling to find the right kind of child care at the moment when he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus, and when he had no alternative, I think he followed the instincts of every father and every parent, and I do not mark him down for that.”

Westminster insiders believe that Downing Street will ride out the storm hoping the criticism will blow out in the coming days, helped by key announcements on lifting lockdown measures.

“They simply cannot afford to lose him but there’s still a lot of landmines out there for him to navigate,” a Whitehall source said.

Questions remain unanswered and could yet prove to be Mr Cummings’s undoing.

A visit to a well-known beauty spot 48km from his parents’ home during the 14-day quarantine was not fully explained.

Mr Cummings has also given assurances that he did not stop at any petrol station during the drive up, but said he could have filled up on the way back from Durham.

But for now, his job remains secure.

As a commentator on The Times put it: “Johnson can't sack Cummings. He is the government.”

Updated: May 26, 2020 12:53 AM

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