Dominic Cummings ‘does not regret’ lockdown trip to Durham amid public and Tory anger

Downing Street aide said he still believed his journey was ‘reasonable’

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Monday 25 May 2020 20:57
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Dominic Cummings says he does not regret breaking lockdown by travelling to Durham

A defiant Dominic Cummings said he did not regret driving 260 miles during lockdown and that he still believed his journey was “reasonable” as he broke his silence to fight for his political career.

During an extraordinary press conference in the rose garden of Downing Street, Mr Cummings also admitted what appeared to be second clear breach of the rules when he said he had taken a 30 mile trip to a beauty spot while in County Durham.

Despite calls from more than a dozen Tory MPs for his head, Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser said he had not considered standing down over the controversy.

Last night a number of cabinet ministers lined up to publicly support Mr Cummings, for the second time in three days.

But rank-and-file Tory MPs reported that Mr Cummings’s statement had failed to win over their constituents.

One MP told The Independent they had received a flood of angry emails in the wake of Mr Cummings’s attempt to explain his actions.

Even an announcement by Mr Johnson that shops in England would reopen in the middle of next month appeared to do little to stem public anger over his most senior adviser’s behaviour.

During more than an hour of questions from the press, Mr Cummings said: “I don’t regret what I did. I think reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances, but I think what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances.”

He said he hoped that people would understand his actions once they knew the “very complex situation” he was facing.

The 30 mile trip to Barnard Castle was to test his eyesight, he said, ahead of a long drive back to London. Mr Cummings was concerned his sight had been affected when he came down with Covid-19 symptoms in Durham, he added.

He travelled to Durham in the first place to seek help with childcare because he feared he and his wife were about to fall ill with the virus, he said.

He was also concerned about the safety of his young child in London, after his high-profile position in government attracted threats.

But he added that he never considered approaching a friend or neighbour in London for help with his child for fear of exposing them to a “deadly disease”.

And he said he was motivated in part by a desire to return to work in Downing Street and to ensure his family were safe if he did so.

The senior aide denied making any stops on the journey from London to Durham. But he could only say he was “95 per cent sure” he had stopped off on the way home.

He also admitted sitting near a river in Barnard Castle and that he and his wife had gone into some woods on the way back because his son needed to go to the toilet.

Mr Cummings said his trip north had not been sanctioned by the prime minister. But he admitted that he had told Mr Johnson about it shortly afterwords, meaning the prime minster had been aware of the breach in the lockdown rules for weeks.

Asked later, Mr Johnson said he had “regrets” but only about the anger and confusion the public felt over his aide’s 500-mile round trip.

No 10 sources later suggested that Mr Cummings’s wife could not have driven the family home from Durham because she was not insured.

At least 15 Conservative MPs, including former ministers, have now called for Mr Cummings to go, while several others have spoken out against his behaviour.

The prime minister is also coming under mounting pressure from his own MPs to order a Whitehall investigation into the case.

The local police and crime commissioner has also asked the chief constable of Durham police to establish the facts about Mr Cummings’s movements in Durham and whether he broke the law.

Less than an hour before his statement the Tory MP for the area said she hoped reports he had taken a day trip in her constituency were untrue.

Boris Johnson on Dominic Cummings: 'I regret the confusion and the anger that people feel'

Dehenna Davison, the MP for Bishop Auckland, said if the rules had been broken “appropriate action should be taken”.

Earlier, a number of senior clergymen issued stinging criticism of Mr Johnson’s defence of his chief aide.

The Right Reverend Paul Butler, bishop of Durham, said the public’s trust had been “broken”.

The Right Reverend Nick Baines, bishop of Leeds, tweeted: “The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs?”

Meanwhile, the Faculty of Public Health, which represents public health professionals, said the government’s response to Mr Cummings’s actions had “undermined essential public health messaging”.

It added that it supported “at the very least an inquiry into the matter”.

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