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Prime minister Boris Johnson. PA

Boris Johnson says he regrets 'confusion and anger' caused by Dominic Cummings controversy

Johnson also announced that all shops in England will be able to reopen next month if they meet guidelines.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson said he regrets the confusion, anger and pain people feel over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham, but he isn’t backing down on support for his chief aide. 

When asked at the daily Downing Street press conference today if he was prepared to revisit his decision to support Dominic Cummings, Johnson said that he could not give anyone “unconditional backing”.

However, he added that he does “not believe anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our messaging.”

Earlier today, Cummings said he drove the 260 miles from London to Durham in late March due to fears over a lack of childcare in London and concerns about his family’s safety.

At an unprecedented press conference in Downing Street’s rose garden, Cummings said he does not regret this decision and added that stories suggesting he had opposed lockdown and “did not care about many deaths” were false.

Johnson said this evening: “I do regret the confusion and the anger and the pain that people feel.”

“This is a country that has been going through the most tremendous difficulties and suffering in the course of the last 10 weeks and that’s why I really did want people to understand exactly what had happened.”

The prime minister said he had been told about Dominic Cummings’ decision to drive to Durham to isolate while he was himself ill and “had a lot on my plate”.

“I didn’t know about any of the arrangements in advance,” Boris Johnson told the Downing Street press conference.

“What I think did happen was while I was ill and about to get a lot sicker we had a brief conversation in which I think Dominic Cuimmings mentioned where he was.

“But I have to tell you, at that particular stage I had a lot on my plate and really didn’t focus on the matter until these stories started to emerge in the last few days.” 

Johnson said it “would be wrong” of him to comment on the incident any further. 

“I think, as he said himself, reasonable people may disagree about some of the decisions that he took, but I don’t think reasonable people can disagree about what was going through his head at the time and the motivations for those decisions.”

Meanwhile, Johnson announced that all shops across England will be able to open next month if they can meet the coronavirus guidelines to protect shoppers and workers.

The prime minister said outdoor markets and car showrooms would be able to open from June 1 if they are safe to do so.

All other non-essential retailers – such as those selling clothes and books – will be allowed to open from June 15, provided the guidelines are met along with the government’s five tests for easing the lockdown.

Johnson said that the risk of transmission is lower in outdoor areas, where social distancing can be easier to enforce.

Earlier this month, garden centres were permitted to reopen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Johnson said: “We will set out our formal assessment of the five tests that we set for adjusting the lockdown later this week as part of the three-weekly review we are legally required to undertake by Thursday.

“But because of the progress we are making I can, with confidence, put the British people on notice of the changes we intend to introduce as we move to step two.”

- With reporting by Orla Dwyer

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