PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has resisted calls to sack senior adviser Dominic Cummings after he travelled 400 km (250 miles) to northern England while his wife showed Covid-19 symptoms.
Cummings, who masterminded the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union during the Brexit referendum, travelled to Durham in late March, when a strict lockdown was already in place.
Johnson’s office said Cummings made the journey to ensure his four-year-old son could be properly cared for as his wife was ill with Covid-19 and there was a “high likelihood” that Cummings would himself become unwell.
“I think that what they did was totally understandable,” Johnson later said at a news conference on Sunday.
“I think any father, any parent would frankly understand what he did and I certainly do.”
The prime minister said he had “extensive face-to-face conversations” with Cummings.
“And I conclude that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus, and when he had no alternative – I think he followed the instincts of every father, and every parent. And I do not mark him down for that.
“I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally.”
Cummings, too, told reporters outside his house that he “behaved reasonably and legally”.
Cummings on Saturday told a throng of reporters while leaving his house that it was “a question of doing the right thing, it’s not about what you guys think”, while rebuking the group for not obeying social distancing rules.
Asked if he would consider his position, he said: “Obviously not.” He then chided reporters for being wrong about the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“You guys are probably all about as right about that as you were about Brexit: do you remember how right you all were about that?” Cummings said.
A number of cabinet ministers and the attorney general voiced support to Cummings, saying his journey was justified.
“I can tell you that the PM provides Mr Cummings with his full support,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told reporters, adding that he did not know when the prime minister found out about the journey.
Downing Street said Cummings’ “actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines” and said the Guardian and the Mirror newspapers, which first reported the story, had made “false allegations”.
“They are writing more inaccurate stories including claims that Mr Cummings returned to Durham after returning to work in Downing Street on 14 April,” Downing Street said. “We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers.”
In another, later report, the Daily Mirror said Cummings made a second trip from London during the lockdown and was spotted near Durham on April 19, days after returning to London from his first trip.
Cummings denied making a second trip to his family in Durham during the lockdown, describing the Mirror’s report as “totally false”, the Telegraph newspaper said late on Saturday.
Opposition parties called for Johnson to sack Cummings, with Labour called on the country’s most senior civil servant, Mark Sedwill, to open an investigation into the journey.
“The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for the prime minister’s most senior adviser,” Labour said.
“What planet are they on?” asked the Daily Mail, which is usually supportive of Johnson and his adviser, who helped the prime minister to power and to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Some 20 ruling Conservative Party lawmakers, 14 Church of England bishops and some scientists also expressed anger.
“Johnson has now gone the full Trump,” said Pete Broadbent, bishop of Willesden, comparing Britain’s leader to his ever-controversial US ally President Donald Trump.
Tory MP Steve Baker told Sky News: “I just see this rattling on now for day after day, wasting the public’s time, consuming political capital and diverting from the real issues we need to deal with. No-one is indispensable.”
Notably, the high-profile Brexit campaigner has long opposed Cummings taking a role in Downing Street.
“It is intolerable that Boris’ government is losing so much political capital,” Baker wrote on Twitter. “Dominic Cummings must go.”
His criticism was retweeted by fellow Tory MP William Wragg while another, Craig Whittaker, tweeted that “you cannot advise the nation one thing then do the opposite”.
Lawmaker Tim Loughton said: “I got swamped with even more emails from people who don’t have a political axe to grind and who say… ‘it looks as though it’s one rule for them and one for us, why should we now abide by government guidance?'”
Behavioural scientist Stephen Reicher, a member of a panel which advises the government, said the furore would wreck public confidence.
“In a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control Covid-19,” he said.
Brexit-supporting MP Peter Bone also told LBC Radio that Cummings “has to go”.
Just a few days before Cummings’ journey, Johnson had imposed a lockdown in the UK and asked people to stay at home. He said on March 23 that people “should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home”.
Shortly after Johnson announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19, Cummings sprinted out of Downing Street on March 27 and developed symptoms on the weekend of March 28-29.
Government guidelines say that those who have Covid-19 or suspect they have it should self-isolate for at least seven days along with their household and not leave their house for any reason.
The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats called for Cummings to be sacked.
Incidentally, other prominent figures had resigned after breaking lockdown rules.
Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson quit as a member of the government’s scientific advisory group after he was visited at home by his girlfriend.
Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, stepped down after she was caught making two trips to her second home.