The Minister for the Cabinet Office and ally of Mr Cummings today came out to bat for the PM’s top aide after he yesterday refused to apologise for the journey and insisted he had no regrets.
Mr Gove said Mr Cummings had delivered an ‘exhaustive, detailed and verifiable’ account of why he had isolated with his family in a cottage on his parents’ land.
Number 10 will be hoping that Mr Cummings’ extraordinary press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden will be enough to dampen Tory and public fury.
But the row shows little sign of abating as Tory MPs today expressed their fears that the controversy will become a new ‘poll tax moment’ for the Conservative Party which could damage it for years to come.
Meanwhile, Mr Cummings is facing fresh questions after he said he had driven to Barnard Castle, 30 miles away from Durham, following his period in isolation in order to check he was fit to drive back to London.
Mr Cummings said he wanted to test he could drive after he had experienced trouble with his eyesight during his illness.
But the former Greater Manchester Police chief constable Sir Peter Fahy today said driving in such circumstances ‘appears to be against the Highway Code’.
It also emerged today that Boris Johnson did not tell a meeting of the Cabinet yesterday afternoon that Mr Cummings was going to host his own press conference – a move likely to cause controversy among ministers.
Dominic Cummings, pictured leaving his London home this morning, yesterday said he had no regrets about his 260 mile drive to Durham during lockdown
Michael Gove today said ‘people will make their own mind up’ about Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham
Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street today, said last night that his support for his top aide was not ‘unconditional’
Mr Johnson last night told the daily Downing Street press conference that his backing for Mr Cummings was not unconditional, saying: ‘I can’t give unconditional backing to anybody but I don’t believe anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our message.’
The Prime Minister has expended a huge amount of political capital to protect his top adviser at a time when many Tory MPs had called for him to be sacked.
Following his statement yesterday afternoon, numerous Cabinet ministers expressed their support for Mr Cummings.
This morning Mr Gove, who was Mr Cummings’ boss when he was a special adviser at the Department for Education, stepped in to defend his ally.
Mr Gove told BBC Breakfast: ‘I know that he is a man of honour and integrity and as people will have had the chance to hear yesterday they will know from his own account that he was acting in a way which sought to safeguard his family, sought to limit, indeed reduce the risk of infection to anyone else, which took account of a range of circumstances.
‘People will make their own mind up and as Dominic himself said there will be many people who will think that his actions were wrong or mistaken.
‘But looking at it in the round I think that his actions were reasonable.’
Mr Gove said he believed people are ‘sensible and reasonable’ and would recognise that Mr Cummings ‘didn’t break the law, he didn’t break the rules’.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office said: ‘I think Dominic completely understands the sense of concern people felt as the story broke.
‘I think the account he gave yesterday was exhaustive, it was detailed, it was verifiable. I think people will make their own mind up as they listened to Dominic’s account.
‘I think most people will understand he was under pressure, and sought to put the health of his wife and son first, and took care to ensure they as a family unit were not in danger of infecting other people.’
When asked about Mr Cummings’ test drive to Barnard Castle, Mr Gove claimed it was a ‘completely appropriate’ journey because he was ‘preparing to return to work’.
Asked how that trip could be classed as essential travel, Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The key thing is that Dominic is a key worker and being in a position to be able to return to work is a sensible thing.’
Asked if the journey was within the lockdown guidance, Mr Gove said: ‘Yes, I believe so.’
But Sir Peter, the ex-chief of Greater Manchester Police, questioned the validity and wisdom of the trip.
The key revelations from Dominic Cummings during today’s press conference
Dominic Cummings today:
- Admitted driving to Durham at the end of March but denied stopping for fuel or anything else on the way up
- Admitted taking a drive to Barnard Castle on April 12 – to test his eye sight before a 260 drive back to London
- He claimed this hour round-trip to the beauty spot was ‘reasonable and sensible’ before ’embarking on a five hour drive’ back to the capital
- Insisted that he and his family had not walked around the town 30 miles from Durham and had only ventured 15 metres from the car to the river bank
- Admitted driving to the hospital to pick up his wife and son but did not leave the car or come into contact with anyone on the way.
- Denied a reported second trip to the north on April 19, when he was allegedly spotted in woods near Durham
- Said he stayed 50m from his parents’ home and did not go nearer it while self-isolating
- Asked if he had offered to quit he said: ‘No I have not offered to resign, no I have not considered it.’
- Refused to apologise but said: ‘I don’t think I’m so different and I don’t think there is one rule for me and one rule for other people … I believe I have behaved reasonably and legally’
- Blamed inaccurate reporting for the ‘anger’ that he is facing, including people shouting at him outside his home
- Claimed: ‘If you have got a child that’s four years old and neither of you can look after him, the guidance doesn’t say ”you have just got to sit there”.
He said: ‘Clearly, number one, that’s ill-advised as a means of testing your eyesight as to whether you’re fit to drive, but again it’s hard to see – unless there’s some justification that that was to take daily exercise – how that was justified.’
Asked if it was a criminal offence, Sir Peter replied: ‘It certainly appears to be against the Highway Code, it’s not the way to test your eyesight, and put potentially other people in danger.’
Sir Peter also said it was likely that Mr Cummings would have been told to return to London if police had stopped him on his trip to Durham.
He said: ‘I think at that point in terms of what was the understanding of the regulations and the Government messaging I think it may well be that absolutely he’d have been turned back, as many other people were turned back from things that they were doing.’
Mr Cummings’ failure to show any contrition during yesterday’s press conference sparked fresh anger from some Tory MPs and ministers who had earlier called for him to be sacked.
One senior minister told The Times: ‘My jaw continues to drop. He’s saying he’s so much more important than us plebs.
‘I think we’re in big trouble, we can’t campaign our way out of this. We’re losing trust and confidence, it’s draining away before our eyes. The fact he didn’t apologise speaks volumes.’
Some Tory MPs now fear the row could do lasting damage to the Conservative Party in the same way that the poll tax at the start of the 1990s and Black Wednesday in 1992 did.
‘This could be an ERM moment, where the public turn against us,’ one MP told The Telegraph, referring to when a collapse in the pound forced the Tory government to withdraw sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).
The MP said the Conservative Party’s response in 1992 was ‘awful’ and ‘it looked really callous’ prompting the public to ‘turn against us for the next four years’.
They said the row over Mr Cummings ‘feels like that’. Another MP said the row and the aftermath ‘feels more like poll tax’.
Many Conservative MPs are now waiting to hear what Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, says before going pubic with their own conclusions.
One added: ‘The volume of emails has been truly extraordinary. We are all waiting for the opinion polls now.’
Yesterday’s extraordinary press conference saw Mr Cummings refuse to apologise for driving 260 miles to Durham during the lockdown as he claimed he had behaved ‘reasonably and legally’.
Mr Cummings said his decision to travel to the city to stay in a cottage on his parents’ land was the result of a ‘very complicated, tricky situation’ as he admitted he had not sought Mr Johnson’s permission to make the journey at the end of March.
The Vote Leave maverick has faced accusations of ‘double standards’, with the nation having been instructed to stay at home, but he said: ‘I don’t regret what I did… I think what I did was reasonable in the circumstances.’
Asked directly if he had offered to quit or had even considered it, he added: ‘No I have not offered to resign, no I have not considered it.’
Mr Cummings told the press conference:
- He travelled to Durham in the dead of night on March 27 after his wife became ill because there was ‘nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to Covid’. He became ill himself the following day and was bedbound for days.
- He added: ‘Clearly I could not return to work anytime soon. For a day or two we were both ill, I was in bed, my wife was ill but not ill enough to require emergency help.’ He said he had not asked the Prime Minister about his decision and admitted that ‘arguably this was a mistake’.
- He did not take any medical advice before driving to Durham. When asked if he was confident he was not putting people at risk, he said: ‘I knew that I had a full tank of petrol, I could drive to a place that was completely isolated from everybody else. I knew that if me and my wife could not look after our small child there was a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old 50 metres away. If I had stayed in London and a similar thing had happened then I would have had to get somebody else there and expose them to danger or invite them into the house which would also have exposed them to danger. The way that I did it seemed to be the safest way to do it in the circumstances.’
- Mr Cummings said that on April 2 his son fell unwell and was taken to hospital but he was still too ill to go with him. He said: ‘During the night of Thursday April 2 my child woke up, he threw up and had a bad fever. He was very distressed. We took medical advice which was to call 999, an ambulance was sent, they assessed my child and said he should go to hospital. I could barely stand up, my wife went with him in the ambulance, I stayed at home, he stayed the night in hospital.’
- He said that in the morning his wife called to say their son had recovered and could return home. Mr Cummings said that he drove to the hospital to pick up his wife and son but did not leave the car or come into contact with anyone on the way. He said as he was recovering he went for a walk in the woods next to the cottage they were staying at which was private land and while they saw some people they had no interaction with anyone.
- By April 11 he was still feeling ‘weak and exhausted’ but had no Covid symptoms so thought he would be able to return to work the following week – possibly part-time. He added: ‘It was obvious that the situation was extremely serious, the Prime Minister had been gravely ill, colleagues were dealing with huge problems and many were ill or isolating. I felt that I should be able to return to work if possible given I was now recovering in order to relieve the intense strain at Number 10.’
- He admitted taking a drive to Barnard Castle on April 12 – where he was spotted by a local retired teacher – to test his eye sight before a 260 drive back to London. Mr Cummings said he had felt a ‘bit sick’ so they had walked about 10 to 15 metres to the riverbank where they sat for about 15 minutes until he felt better.
- He defended his decision, saying: ‘My wife was very worried, particularly as my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease. She did not want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child given how ill I had been. We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely, we drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town. We did not visit the castle, we did not walk around the town.’
- He denied reports that he and his family made a second trip north later in April after returning to London on April 13. He added: ‘In the last few days there have been many media reports I returned to Durham after April 13. All these stories are false. There’s a particular report I returned there on April 19. Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false, I was in London on that day.’
- Asked if he had offered to quit he said: ‘No I have not offered to resign, no I have not considered it.’ He added: ‘I don’t think I’m so different and I don’t think there is one rule for me and one rule for other people … I believe I have behaved reasonably and legally’.
Source: Daily Mail – Articles