Scottish Tory minister resigns in protest over Cummings lockdown breach row


Scottish Conservative Party MP Douglas Ross (Courtesy: Twitter)
Scottish Conservative Party MP Douglas Ross (Courtesy: Twitter)

DOUGLAS ROSS, a junior minister in the Scotland Office, resigned on Tuesday (26), saying the prime minister’s senior adviser’s explanation of why he travelled during the coronavirus lockdown was based on decisions “others felt were not available to them”.

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s closest aide, had refused to resign on Monday, saying he had done nothing wrong by driving 250 miles to northern England when Britain was under a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In a letter posted on his Twitter account, Ross said: “As a father myself, my instinct is to always do what is best for my son and wife. We have been fortunate not to have caught this awful virus but if we did, we are prepared to follow the government advice and stay at home to contain this virus.”

“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones, families who could not mourn together, people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister would like to thank Douglas Ross for his service to government and regrets his decision to stand down as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland.”

Cummings has faced calls to quit from lawmakers, Church of England bishops, police officers and scientists over his trip to County Durham, northern England, which they said had damaged citizens’ trust in public health messaging.

“I did what I thought was the right thing to do,” Cummings said during an extraordinary televised grilling in the rose garden at 10 Downing Street, Johnson’s official residence.

“No, I have not offered to resign. No, I have not considered it,” Cummings said.

Johnson’s decision to stand by a man on whom he depends as his main strategist has led to his own judgment being questioned, with critics saying the episode signals that the normal rules do not apply to the people in charge.

“I do regret the confusion and the anger and the pain that people feel … That’s why I wanted people to understand exactly what had happened,” Johnson told a later news conference. “I do not believe that anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our messaging.”

However, that was precisely what scientists and public health experts said both men had done.

“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,” said Stephen Reicher, a behavioural scientist on an advisory panel, on Twitter.

Number 10 special advisor Dominic Cummings arrives home in London on May 25, 2020, after giving a press conference answering allegations he and his family broke the rules when they travelled from London to Durham while the nation was under full-lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. “I don’t think there is one rule for me and one rule for all people,” Cummings told reporters in his first official press conference on the job. (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

With a death toll of around 43,000, Britain is Europe’s worst-hit country and the government had already been under pressure over its handling of the pandemic before the Cummings story broke on Friday.

With a growing number of lawmakers from his own Conservative Party defying him by urging Cummings to quit, Johnson asked his trusted aide, who normally stays behind the scenes, to explain himself in public.

The choice of the Downing Street garden as the venue underscored Cummings‘ importance to Johnson, whom he helped to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union in a 2016 referendum and later helped to win power.

Handing him the chance to defend himself in front of the media was a clear signal Johnson was not prepared to succumb to calls to sack his aide, instead doubling down that he had not done anything wrong.

But the row looked set to rumble on.

After Ross’ resignation, Adam Tomkins, a member of the Scottish Parliament, said Cummings should be sacked.

“To lose (Ross) from government is a disaster. His was one of clearest voices for the Union in government. It shows exactly why Cummings should be sacked. I suspect others will follow where Douglas has led,” he said on Twitter.

Several lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party demanded Cummings be sacked after receiving angry messages from voters.

EYE TEST?

Sitting at a desk on the grass for an hour, Cummings answered questions from reporters on issues as detailed as whether he stopped for petrol or toilet breaks during his 400-km journey.

Asked what message he had for Durham residents angry that he risked spreading the virus in their community, he said he would advise them not to believe everything they read in the newspapers.

He said he undertook the trip after learning Johnson had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Cummings‘ wife was already ill and he feared if he too fell ill neither parent would be strong enough to care for their son.

He said he decided they should go and stay in an isolated cottage on his father’s farm so that his 17-year-old niece could look after his son if necessary. Cummings fell ill while there, as did his son who briefly went to hospital.

He said he had not tried to find an alternative childcare option in London.

Quizzed about a 30-mile drive he took with his wife and son from the family farm to a beauty spot, Barnard Castle, he said his eyesight had been affected by his illness and they wanted to check he would be able to undertake the journey back to London.

Asked whether he thought this explanation was plausible, Johnson swerved, saying it was plausible that Cummings‘ eyesight had been affected by COVID-19 as he himself had noticed he needed glasses since recovering from the disease.