Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to Boris Johnson, is at the centre of a political storm after it was revealed that he drove from London to Durham during the national coronavirus lockdown.
An investigation by The Guardian and the Daily Mirror reported that “he made the 264-mile journey while ill with coronavirus in late March”.
Cummings travelled with his wife and four-year-old son from his residence in London to his family’s home in Durham.
The UK government’s public message at this time was “Stay Home – Protect the NHS – Save Lives”, leading to accusations that the prime minister’s aide had broken the “Stay Home” rule that he had in part created.
The reports included claims from sources close to Mr Cummings that “he went to stay with his parents so they could help with childcare”.
It was later revealed that Cummings had been spotted at Barnard Castle, 30 miles from his parents’ home, on Easter Sunday, along with his wife and child.
Hosting a press conference on 24 May, Boris Johnson said Cummings had “followed the instincts of every father and every parent”.
“I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly, legally, and with integrity”, the PM added.
Labour leader Keir Starmer responded, saying the prime minister was “treating the British public with contempt”, arguing that the journeys were “not a reasonable interpretation of the rules”, to which millions had kept.
Bank Holiday Monday saw the unusual occurrence of the PM’s advisor hosting his own press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden.
During the hour-long encounter, Mr Cummings refused to apologise for his actions, maintaining the prime minister’s line that he behaved “reasonably and legally”.
He described his situation as “complex” and stated that his second journey to Barnard Castle was “to see if he could drive safely” as being ill with Covid-19 had allegedly caused him vision troubles.
This is how Dominic Cummings’s own timeline account unfolded:
JOURNEY 1 (28 March): from London to Durham.
JOURNEY 2 (3 April): from his parents’ Durham house to a local hospital, to collect his son who had been admitted with coronavirus symptoms and his wife who had travelled with their son.
JOURNEY 3 (12 April): from his parents’ Durham house to Barnard Castle and back.
JOURNEY 4 (13 April): from his parents’ Durham house back to London.
According to a poll by YouGov, 59 per cent of Britons think Dominic Cummings should resign, and MP Douglas Ross has become the first minister to step down, saying, “Mr Cummings interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people”.
Ross is one of dozens of Tory MPs warning that in not sacking his aide, the PM is damaging the credibility of the government’s health messages.
The cabinet have been unanimous in their support for Mr Cummings however, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeting that he “he followed the rules applicable to his family”, emphasising the need to move on from the episode.
Lockdown regulations stated “If you are living with children, keep following this advice to the best of your ability; however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible”.
Although it has been argued that this allowed Cummings’s trip to Durham for childcare reasons, it is unclear whether his fears that he and his wife may have been too unwell with coronavirus to care for their son constituted a reason to adapt these rules.
Additionally, at the time of Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle, driving to the countryside for exercise was permitted, but only if “more time is spent walking than driving”; the approximate 70-minute return driving time was longer than the 15 minutes which Cummings stated his family spent outside the car.
Journeys made to test driving ability were also not listed under the regulations as “essential travel”.