Irish backstop –
Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings has defended his 260-mile (418km) journey from London to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown, telling reporters he never considered resigning.
He blamed the media for the public anger that led 20 conservative MPs to call for his sacking and for any impact the story may have on compliance with social distancing rules.
During an hour-long press conference in the garden at 10 Downing Street, Mr Cummings admitted that during his self-isolation in Durham, he drove with his wife and four-year-old son to a beauty spot about 30 minutes away. He also acknowledged that he almost certainly stopped to get petrol on the journey back to London, another apparent breach of the official guidance.
“If you’re someone who was sitting at home watching a lot of the media over the last three days, then I think lots of people would be very angry. And I completely understand that,” he said.
Mr Cummings did not express regret for his actions or offer an apology to people who believed he had flouted the rules he helped to draw up. But he said he should have told his version of events when the story broke in the Mirror and the Guardian last Friday night rather than wait until Monday.
Over the weekend, Anglican bishops and some of the government’s advisors on the behavioural science of the lockdown joined a growing chorus of condemnation of Mr Cummings. The Conservative-supporting Daily Mail on Monday called for him to resign, or failing that for Mr Johnson to sack him “no ifs, no buts”.
Mr Cummings said he did not tell Mr Johnson about his decision to travel to Durham after his wife became ill with suspected coronavirus because the prime minister had himself been diagnosed with it and his time was precious.
“The prime minister’s time is just about the most valuable commodity there is in the government, so you have to be very careful about what you go to him with and what you don’t. I understand if people think that’s a mistake,” he said.
He said he told the prime minister that he was in Durham a few days later but that both men were so ill that neither remembered much about the conversation. Mr Johnson did not ask him about the matter again until after the story broke at the weekend but his position in Downing Street was never in question.
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“I have not offered to resign. I did not consider it,” he said.
During a press conference on Sunday, Mr Johnson asserted that some elements of the story in the Mirror and the Guardian were inaccurate. But Mr Cummings confirmed that he had left his parents’ farm where he was staying to drive for 30 minutes to the town of Barnard Castle.
He said he went on the outing with his wife and son to see if his eyesight was good enough to drive back to London the following day.
“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,” he said.
He said they parked by a river and sat on the bank for 15 minutes before turning around but they stopped at a forest on the way back because his son needed to go to the toilet.
Labour said Mr Cummings had failed to offer the apology the public expected.
“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,” the party said in a statement.
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