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Dominic Cummings blasts the press for not social distancing as he returns home

Under-fire Dominic Cummings tonight blasted press waiting outside his home for not social distancing shortly after he was given Boris Johnson‘s backing over claims he twice broke the government’s lockdown rules.

The Prime Minister’s top aide, who faces calls to resign over claims he travelled between London and Durham while the country was in lockdown, told a scrum of journalists, photographers and camera operators ‘you should stick to the rules’ as he returned to his London home tonight.

It follows similar scenes earlier today in which he was seen wafting a black folder in the direction of a pack of journalists as he tried to leave his home.

This evening’s incident comes after Mr Cummings made a five hour visit to Downing Street earlier today, which culminated in Mr Johnson publicly backing his key man during an extraordinary press briefing at Number 10 this afternoon.

Under-fire Dominic Cummings tonight blasted press waiting outside his home for not social distancing shortly after he was given Boris Johnson's backing over claims he twice broke the government's lockdown rules

Under-fire Dominic Cummings tonight blasted press waiting outside his home for not social distancing shortly after he was given Boris Johnson's backing over claims he twice broke the government's lockdown rules

Under-fire Dominic Cummings tonight blasted press waiting outside his home for not social distancing shortly after he was given Boris Johnson’s backing over claims he twice broke the government’s lockdown rules

The Prime Minister's top aide also faced criticism from neighbours and members of the public outside his London home

The Prime Minister's top aide also faced criticism from neighbours and members of the public outside his London home

The Prime Minister’s top aide also faced criticism from neighbours and members of the public outside his London home

Mr Cummings had earlier waved a black folder in the direction of journalists as he tried to leave his home today

Mr Cummings had earlier waved a black folder in the direction of journalists as he tried to leave his home today

Mr Cummings leaves his London home earlier today,  as he is crowded by journalists and photographers

Mr Cummings leaves his London home earlier today,  as he is crowded by journalists and photographers

Mr Cummings had earlier waved a black folder in the direction of journalists as he tried to leave his home today

But Mr Cummings also faced more than just camera crews on his return tonight, with angry neighbours determined to heckle him with their grievances over his  controversial 260-mile trip from London to Durham during lockdown. 

Mr Cummings returned home this evening following a dramatic press conference in Downing Street, in which the Prime Minister claimed his chief aide had acted ‘responsibly, legally and with integrity’ while making a controversial 260-mile trip from London to Durham during lockdown.

Mr Johnson insisted Mr Cummings had ‘followed the instincts of every father’ by driving to his parents’ farm after his wife developed symptoms of coronavirus.

But he refused to deny that while in the North East, Mr Cummings had also driven 30 miles to go for a walk in the countryside in an apparent second lockdown breach.

And he failed to say whether he had given Mr Cummings permission for the Durham trip – or offer any apology for his most senior aide’s behaviour. 

The Prime Minister’s unscheduled appearance at the press conference came after crisis talks in Downing Street lasting two hours.  

Boris Johnson (pictured) was facing a furious Tory backlash at all levels of his party last night after he attempted to mount an extraordinary defence of Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson (pictured) was facing a furious Tory backlash at all levels of his party last night after he attempted to mount an extraordinary defence of Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson (pictured) was facing a furious Tory backlash at all levels of his party last night after he attempted to mount an extraordinary defence of Dominic Cummings

At a dramatic press conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister claimed his chief aide (pictured) had acted 'responsibly, legally and with integrity' while making a controversial 260-mile trip from London to Durham during lockdown

At a dramatic press conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister claimed his chief aide (pictured) had acted 'responsibly, legally and with integrity' while making a controversial 260-mile trip from London to Durham during lockdown

At a dramatic press conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister claimed his chief aide (pictured) had acted ‘responsibly, legally and with integrity’ while making a controversial 260-mile trip from London to Durham during lockdown

Eleven Conservative MPs had earlier broken ranks and publicly called for Mr Cummings to be forced to depart the government machine.

THE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS 

1. How many ministers, including the PM, knew Mr Cummings had travelled to Durham and was self-isolating there?

2. Did Mr Cummings ask for advice or permission from No 10 before he travelled?

3. Why did Mr Cummings insist neither he nor his family had been spoken to by Durham Police, when his father had contacted the force himself?

4. Can Mr Cummings explain where he was on April 12, when he was allegedly spotted at Barnard Castle?

5. Can Mr Cummings provide details of his whereabouts on April 19, when he was allegedly seen in Houghall Woods?

6. What reason can Mr Cummings provide for allegedly travelling to Durham for a second time after his return to London, given he and his wife had recovered from their symptoms?

7. Why didn’t another family member near Mr Cummings’s London home care for their child when his wife displayed virus symptoms?

8. How many times did Mr Cummings travel between London and the North East during lockdown?

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However, it became clear last night that Mr Johnson’s comments had only fuelled the affair, which critics fear will damage the reputation of the government and wreck public support for the lockdown rules.

That anger reached Cabinet level yesterday, with ministers – some of whom were ordered to publicly support for Mr Cummings on Saturday – growing uneasy over the mounting allegations.  

One ministerial source said the affair risked torpedoing public trust in the government at a time of national crisis. ‘You can lose popularity, you cannot lose trust,’ the minister said.

Another warned the PM was ‘bleeding credibility’ to protect an aide who had delivered both the Brexit referendum result and his stunning election win last year.

One senior minister branded Mr Cummings an ‘arrogant idiot’, adding: ‘The fact that he is still there just shows how dysfunctional No 10 is. I am being bombarded with emails from constituents who are angry that while they have been making these incredible sacrifices and not seeing family, he’s just done whatever he wants. It is breathtaking that the PM is defending him.’  

The senior Tory MP Simon Hoare, who had earlier called for Mr Cummings to go, said after the press conference: ‘The PM’s performance posed more questions than it answered. Any residual hope that this might die away in the next 24 hours is lost.’

New Tory MP David Warburton added: ‘As much as I despise any baying pitchfork-led trials by social media, I’m unconvinced by the PM’s defence of Cummings.’ 

Mr Cummings' wife Mary Wakefield (pictured outside their home today) was ill with coronavirus when they travelled north

Mr Cummings' wife Mary Wakefield (pictured outside their home today) was ill with coronavirus when they travelled north

Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield (pictured outside their home today) was ill with coronavirus when they travelled north

Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: ‘It is a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’- and it is not as if he was unfamiliar with guidance he himself helped draw up. It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable.’ Veteran Tory Sir Roger Gale said: ‘I’m very disappointed, I think it was an opportunity to put this to bed and I fear that now the story is simply going to run and run.’

Some of the government’s scientific advisors also weighed in last night, with Professor Stephen Reicher saying: ‘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.’

And in a fresh blow last night, Mr Cummings was facing the possibility of a police inquiry into his 30-mile trip to Barnard Castle to take a family walk on his wife’s birthday on April 12.  

Timeline of Cummings’ lockdown row 

March 23: As the coronavirus crisis escalates, the UK is placed into lockdown with strict limitations on travel.

The Government guidelines state: ‘You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.’

Those in a household with symptoms must ‘stay at home and not leave the house’ for up to 14 days. 

March 27: Both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus, while chief medical officer Chris Whitty says he has symptoms of the disease and is self-isolating.

March 30: Downing Street confirms Mr Cummings is suffering from coronavirus symptoms and is self-isolating.

March 31: Durham police are ‘made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city’.

The force said officers ‘made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.

‘In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.’

April 5: An unnamed neighbour tells the Mirror and the Guardian Mr Cummings was seen in his parents’ garden.

‘I got the shock of my life as I looked over to the gates and saw him,’ they said. 

March 30 – April 6: The period Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield describes the family’s battle with coronavirus in the April 25 issue of the Spectator.

She makes no mention of the trip to Durham and describes the challenges of caring for their son while suffering the symptoms of Covid-19.

She says their small son nursed Mr Cummings with Ribena. 

April 12: Robert Lees, a retired chemistry teacher, claims to have seen Mr Cummings 30 miles away from his parents home in Barnard Castle. 

April 14: Mr Cummings returns to work for the first time since news he was suffering from Coronavirus emerged.

Questions are raised about his adherence to social distancing advice as he is photographed walking down Downing Street with fellow aide Cleo Watson.

April 19: A passer-by claims to have spotted Mr Cummings and his family admiring bluebells with his wife, back in Durham.

May 22: News breaks in the Mirror and the Guardian of Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham.

May 23: Downing Street stands by the PM’s chief aide, saying in a statement: ‘Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.’ 

That evening, a joint Sunday Mirror and Observer investigation reveals the two new eyewitness claims. 

Retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees, who spotted him, last night told the Guardian he had reported the matter to Durham Police.

Earlier, Durham’s former chief constable Mike Barton said Mr Cummings ‘broke the law’ by travelling to stay in the area during lockdown.   

The PM decided to throw a protective arm around Mr Cummings after crisis talks with his mercurial adviser, in Number.

Attempting to draw a line under the affair, the PM said Mr Cummings had acted ‘with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives’.

Mr Johnson said his adviser had ‘followed the instincts of every father and every parent’ in travelling to a place where he could get help caring for his four-year-old son if he and wife came down with the virus at the same time.

The row comes at the start of a critical week for the PM in which he is expected to announce plans for easing the lockdown.

On Wednesday he is due to face a grilling from senior MPs, which now looks set to be dominated by questions about his judgment over his aide’s behaviour.

Mr Johnson last night denied that Mr Cummings was guilty of double standards, saying he had faced ‘very severe child care difficulties’ that could only be resolved by leaving his home in London and taking his family to Durham.

His wife Mary developed symptoms of the virus in late March and the couple feared they might be unable to care for their young son if Mr Cummings also came down with the illness, which he later did.

The family stayed on a property at the farm owned by Mr Cummings parents. In the event they did not need help with child care but did receive food deliveries from his sister while they were isolating for 14 days.

The decision to travel hundreds of miles while his wife was ill appeared to break government rules telling families they must stay at home for 14 days as soon as a member of the household develops symptoms.

Mr Johnson said: ‘I have concluded 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.’ No 10 yesterday denied claims in the Mirror that Mr Cummings had made a second visit to Durham after returning to work in No 10.

Mr Johnson said ‘some’ of the allegations made about Mr Cummings in recent days were ‘palpably false’ But sources did not deny that the family had driven 30 miles to walk at Castle Barnard on Easter Sunday when ministers were telling people to stay at home to save lives.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for an inquiry, and warned that failure to sack him would ‘undermine confidence’ in the lockdown.

‘It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings,’ he said.

‘The public will be forgiven for thinking there is one rule for the Prime Minister’s closest adviser and another for the British people.’

Nicola Sturgeon, who forced out her chief scientific adviser for breaking lockdown rules, said: ‘I know it is tough to lose a trusted adviser at the height of crisis, but when it’s a choice of that or integrity of vital public health advice, the latter must come first.’

Source: Daily Mail – Articles

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