'As I understand it': Grant Shapps flounders in attempted defence of Dominic Cummings

Cabinet minister repeatedly describes events as he 'understands' them 

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Sunday 24 May 2020 11:14 BST
'As I understand it': Grant Shapps flounders in defence of Dominic Cummings

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has struggled to set out Dominic Cummings' movements during lockdown, as pressure mounts for the prime minister's top aide to stand down.

In his second Sunday morning television appearance, Mr Shapps repeatedly described events and the timeline, "as I understand it."

He categorically denied a claim Mr Cummings went back to Durham after returning to London in mid-April.

But he failed to rule out that Mr Cummings may have made a sightseeing trip 30 miles from his family’s home on Easter Sunday, at the height of the lockdown.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that Mr Cummings would not resign.

Earlier he said he did not know if Mr Cummings visited Barnard Castle on 12 April, as reported, but added that would have been after his 14-day isolation period.

He told the Sophy Ridge show: "I certainly know that the first one you mention, of travelling back up (to Durham), I know that is not true.

"I'm afraid I don't know (about Barnard Castle) but if that date was true that would have been outside the 14-day period. But I'm afraid I don't have the information on that.”

He also said Boris Johnson was “pretty ill” when Mr Cummings took the 250-mile trip during lockdown, as he dodged questions about what the prime minister knew and when.

Mr Shapps said he did not think the journey would have been “high on (his) agenda”.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner joked that his appearance on Marr "really cleared things up."

Labour have called on Mr Johnson to appear at this afternoon’s daily Downing Street press conference to explain the situation.

The prime minister is facing mounting calls to sack Mr Cummings amid claims he made several trips to see his family in county Durham, and a day trip while there, at the same time the country was being told to stay at home.

As Mr Shapps was speaking a number of Tory MPs took to Twitter to call on Mr Cummings to consider his position.

The moves appeared to be a mirror image of an outpouring of support from cabinet ministers on Saturday for Mr Cummings.

Steve Baker, the former head of the ERG group of Tory MPs, was the first to break ranks, warning Mr Cummings was causing “collateral damage” for the government and should resign.

“It is ridiculous, it has got to stop. Dominic should go,” Mr Baker told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

An eyewitness told the Observer and the Sunday Mirror he had seen Mr Cummings on April 12, 30 miles away from the family home, in Barnard Castle.

Another eyewitness said they saw the prime minister’s most trusted aide in Durham on April 19, days after he had been photographed returning to Downing Street.

Downing Street has described the first trip to Durham as essential, saying Mr Cummngs needed his family’s help to care for his young son because his wife was sick with coronavirus and he feared he was next.

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