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Former UK health secretary says Dominic Cummings was in 'clear breach of lockdown rules'

Senior Tory figures have said it was “humiliating” to watch cabinet ministers defend Dominic Cummings.

Dominic Cummings
Dominic Cummings
Image: Jonathan Brady via PA Images

Updated May 26th 2020, 7:00 PM

FORMER UK HEALTH secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he believes Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules on multiple occasions, but added that he was not calling for the Prime Minister’s adviser to resign.

In a letter sent to constituents, Hunt wrote: “Having watched the broadcast yesterday, my own view is that what he did was a clear breach of the lockdown rules – coming back into work when he had been with his wife who was ill, driving to Durham instead of staying at home and visiting Barnard Castle.

“These were clearly mistakes – both in terms of the guidance which was crystal clear, and in terms of the signal it would potentially give out to others as someone who was at the centre of government.”

Hunt added: “But as someone who has been at the centre of media storms with a young family I know you do make mistakes in these situations. I have made them myself. So I am afraid I am not going to add my voice to the list of those calling for him to resign.

I am also not convinced that politics gains much from the spectacle of scalp-hunting even though I recognise that accountability is central to our democracy and sometimes people do need to resign.

First resignation

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hit with a ministerial resignation as Tory anger over the behaviour of his senior adviser boiled over.

Douglas Ross, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland, said today that he was quitting after hearing Cummings’ efforts to defend his trip from London to Durham.

This afternoon, the Westminster leaders of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party wrote to Johnson calling for Cummings to be sacked. 

They said: “It is now a matter of record that Mr Dominic Cummings broke multiple lockdown rules.

“He is yet to express any apology or contrition for these actions. There cannot be one rule for those involved in formulating public health advice and another for the rest of us.”

The first resignation over the allegations rocking the government – along with the opposition pressure – came as Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove sought to defend his longstanding ally as having acted in an “entirely reasonable” way, and within the law.

But Ross, the MP for Moray, said that “while the intentions may have been well-meaning”, Cummings’ interpretation of the rules was “not shared by the vast majority of people”.

“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,” the Tory MP wrote.

I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the Government was right.

A No 10 spokesman said Johnson “regrets” Ross’s decision to quit.

‘Completely appropriate’

In an extraordinary press conference for an adviser, Cummings argued that his journey to Durham in March was justified as he sought to protect his family’s health.

But many questions remained unanswered, including over his subsequent drive to Barnard Castle which he said was to test his eyesight after it was affected by Covid-19.

Gove said the journey, some 25 miles from where the aide was isolating, was “completely appropriate” because he was “preparing to return to work” by checking he was safe to drive the long trip back to London.

“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,” Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

Former Greater Manchester Police chief constable Sir Peter Fahy said officers had become “frustrated” by the fiasco, which may hinder policing with the rules “now very confused”.

And he suggested that Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle “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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NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said: “Because of the way this story has unfolded, there is certainly concern among our members, health leaders, that it could damage staff and public confidence in official guidance.”

The political storm surrounding Cummings’ press conference in Downing Street’s garden overshadowed Johnson’s announcement that all shops in England will be able to open next month if they can protect shoppers and workers.

Cummings said he and his wife, journalist Mary Wakefield, drove to Durham to stay in a cottage on his father’s farm because of concerns about childcare for their four-year-old son if they were incapacitated by coronavirus and also over fears about the safety of their London home.

He declined to apologise and said he did not regret his actions when he outlined how he drove from his home in London to County Durham during the lockdown.

Despite efforts by ministers to draw a line under the row, anger on the Tory back benches persisted.

Tory MP Simon Jupp suggested that Cummings should consider his position, saying he has felt “anger, disappointment and frustration” during the “deeply unhelpful distraction”.

William Wragg, Tory chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said it was “humiliating” to see ministers defending Cummings.

“We cannot throw away valuable public and political goodwill any longer,” he said.

Veteran Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said the backbench 1922 Committee should tell Johnson that Cummings has to go.

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