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HENRY DEEDES: Humble pie? No, we got undiluted praise for his top adviser

Dismal. Deluded. Deranged? Well, let’s not quite go that far but it was not good. Boris Johnson’s Downing Street press briefing last night made for uncomfortable viewing.

The Prime Minister had yanked on his Sunday suiting to address the hoo-ha over his senior aide Dominic Cummings. He was a late call-up. 

We were originally due to hear from Housing Minister Robert Jenrick but Boris felt this one would be best coming from him.

It was as though Boris’s hitherto brilliant antennae for public opinion had suddenly gone wonky right in front of us. It did not help that he did not altogether look chuffed to be there. His face was flushed, his hair subdued (relatively speaking) and he was fidgety

It was as though Boris’s hitherto brilliant antennae for public opinion had suddenly gone wonky right in front of us. It did not help that he did not altogether look chuffed to be there. His face was flushed, his hair subdued (relatively speaking) and he was fidgety

It was as though Boris’s hitherto brilliant antennae for public opinion had suddenly gone wonky right in front of us. It did not help that he did not altogether look chuffed to be there. His face was flushed, his hair subdued (relatively speaking) and he was fidgety

We hoped for an apology. Or at the very least some contrition, a decent dollop of ‘umble pie served up to an angry nation. Instead, what we got was just undiluted praise for his most trusted adviser.

By driving 200 miles to his family estate during lockdown, Mr Cummings had actually been a rather sensible fellow, apparently. Done what any decent family man would do. Now, we were urged, let’s be done with the fuss and get back to business.

No rules had been broken as far as he could see. Cummings, who with his wife was battling Covid-19 at the time, had ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’. As backings go it was effusive. He is pictured leaving Downing Street on Sunday

No rules had been broken as far as he could see. Cummings, who with his wife was battling Covid-19 at the time, had ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’. As backings go it was effusive. He is pictured leaving Downing Street on Sunday

No rules had been broken as far as he could see. Cummings, who with his wife was battling Covid-19 at the time, had ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’. As backings go it was effusive. He is pictured leaving Downing Street on Sunday

There was something almost deeply worrying watching the PM say all this so blithely, without any sense of unease. It was as though Boris’s hitherto brilliant antennae for public opinion had suddenly gone wonky right in front of us.

It did not help that he did not altogether look chuffed to be there. His face was flushed, his hair subdued (relatively speaking) and he was fidgety.

Standing at the podium, there was a permanently flustered air about him, like a man desperately trying to remember where he’d parked the damn car.

Wasting no time, he began by addressing the ‘big question’ of the weekend.

For a brief moment I thought he might attempt a gag and announce that football matches are returning. Wouldn’t put it past him, would you?

The question, of course, was whether the Government had been urging people to make sacrifices during the lockdown while those who should know better – yes, you Mr Cummings – had been flouting the rules.

The brief answer was no. Boris had had ‘extensive face-to-face’ meetings with Cummings and concluded his aide had ‘followed the instincts’ of a concerned father. ‘I do not mark him down for that,’ the PM said.

No rules had been broken as far as he could see. Cummings, who with his wife was battling Covid-19 at the time, had ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’.

The question, of course, was whether the Government had been urging people to make sacrifices during the lockdown while those who should know better – yes, you Mr Cummings – had been flouting the rules. Police officers are seen arriving at the home of Dominic Cummings in London

The question, of course, was whether the Government had been urging people to make sacrifices during the lockdown while those who should know better – yes, you Mr Cummings – had been flouting the rules. Police officers are seen arriving at the home of Dominic Cummings in London

The question, of course, was whether the Government had been urging people to make sacrifices during the lockdown while those who should know better – yes, you Mr Cummings – had been flouting the rules. Police officers are seen arriving at the home of Dominic Cummings in London

As backings go it was effusive. Not so much as a word of criticism. It reminded me of watching a football manager on Match Of The Day, who, after seeing one of his players get sent off for punching an opponent, declares the thug ‘a lovely lad, really’.

Then, with the deftness of a maitre’d trying to distract guests from a choking diner, Boris was on to discussing his plans for step two of easing the lockdown. Naturally, the journalists weren’t biting. They only wanted to discuss one thing.

We tried to hear from Ian Watson of the BBC first. No joy. Mr Watson was having technical difficulties. Robert Peston of ITV was up next. 

Warbled on as usual. His question lasted over a minute, possibly a record for him. He asked whether members of the public were now free to follow Cummings’ behaviour: ‘Yes, no or not sure?’

Boris laughed nervously. ‘Any father or any parent would understand what he did,’ he muttered, fudging it somewhat. 

The best question came from Channel 4’s Gary Gibbon who wondered if we were all now permitted to follow our ‘instincts’, as Cummings had, rather than follow the rules?

This threw the PM. ‘As far as I can see he acted legally,’ was all he could muster.

Eventually we came back to the BBC man. He asked for confirmation on the more damaging claim that Cummings had visited Barnard Castle on Easter Sunday, as one witnessed has claimed. Boris ignored the question altogether.

It was a wholly unsatisfactory session – not least because some follow-up questions from assorted hacks were muted. 

Whether this was a deliberate Downing Street tactic I’m not sure, though it kept the proceeding session mercifully short at least.

‘We’ll be back tomorrow,’ said Boris hesitantly preparing to leave. There a was brief smile, suggesting it had all gone rather well. It most certainly hadn’t.

Not so much as a word of criticism. It reminded me of watching a football manager on Match Of The Day, who, after seeing one of his players get sent off for punching an opponent, declares the thug ‘a lovely lad, really’. The PM and Mr Cummings are pictured together in September

Not so much as a word of criticism. It reminded me of watching a football manager on Match Of The Day, who, after seeing one of his players get sent off for punching an opponent, declares the thug ‘a lovely lad, really’. The PM and Mr Cummings are pictured together in September

Not so much as a word of criticism. It reminded me of watching a football manager on Match Of The Day, who, after seeing one of his players get sent off for punching an opponent, declares the thug ‘a lovely lad, really’. The PM and Mr Cummings are pictured together in September

Source: Daily Mail – Articles

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