Coronavirus: Michael Gove claims Dominic Cummings 'wise' to drive to Barnard Castle to test eyesight

Gove insists that PM's scandal-hit chief aide had broken no rules

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 26 May 2020 10:33
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Dominic Cummings was 'wise' to make a 30-mile trip to Barnard Castle

Dominic Cummings was "wise" to make a 30-mile trip to Barnard Castle to check he was fit to drive before returning to work in London, a senior cabinet minister has said.

Michael Gove insisted that prime minister's scandal-hit chief aide had done nothing wrong as the furious row over whether he breached lockdown rules to travel more than 260 miles to his parents' house in Durham continued to rage.

In an extraordinary press conference in the Downing Street garden on Monday, Boris Johnson's top adviser said he made the trip in March due to fears over a lack of childcare if he was struck down with coronavirus.

Mr Cummings also defended a separate trip to Barnard Castle, some 30 miles away, in April, saying his eyesight had been affected by the disease and his wife did not want to risk the long drive back to London without checking he was safe to drive first.

But asked if Mr Cummings needed to drive to make the trip, Mr Gove told Sky News: "I think he was wise to make sure he was comfortable before driving back down to London on the A1, an inevitably busier road.

"Of course it is the case it was part of the National Police Chiefs' Council's guidance that you could drive at that time to take exercise as well."

However Mr Gove's comments caused further confusion as the lockdown rules were only relaxed to allow people to drive for exercise in May.

In a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Gove said the adviser was "preparing to return to work" and he wanted to be "confident" in his ability to drive to London by going to Barnard Castle.

Pressed on the fact that the reason "preparing to return to work" did not appear under the regulations, Mr Gove replied: "No, but the key thing is Dominic is a key worker and being in a position to return to work is a sensible thing.

"It'd have been entirely within his right to return to work that day on the basis of the advice he had been given, that's my understanding, so that drive was completely appropriate."

Sir Peter Fahy, former Greater Manchester Police chief constable, said the rules for the public were "now very confused".

"Clearly, number one, that's ill-advised as a means of testing your eyesight as to whether you're fit to drive, but again it's hard to see - unless there's some justification that that was to take daily exercise - how that was justified," he said.

And, asked if it was a criminal offence, Sir Peter replied: "It certainly appears to be against the Highway Code - it's not the way to test your eyesight, and put potentially other people in danger."

He also said "it may well be that absolutely he'd have been turned back" by officers if they stopped him during the drive north from London in March.

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