Dominic Cummings ‘undermined’ government’s stay home message, says Norfolk Conservative MP
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
A Conservative Norfolk MP has said Dominic Cummings “broke the spirit - if not the letter - of the guidance around coronavirus by travelling to Durham with his wife and son and should be reprimanded.
But another of the county’s Tory MPs said Boris Johnson’s chief advisor “followed the guidelines” when he travelled 260 miles to Durham despite coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
In a press conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street, Mr Cummings said he made the journey because of fears over a lack of childcare if he became incapacitated with the virus, and concerns about his family’s safety.
With his wife having complained about feeling unwell, Mr Cummings said he was worried that if both he and his wife fell ill, there was “nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to Covid”.
The family drove to Durham on March 27 and did not stop on the way, he said. They stayed in an “isolated property” on his father’s farm, where the following day he woke up in pain and “clearly had Covid symptoms”.
Mr Cummings said that 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.
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But, because his eyesight had been affected by the disease, his wife did not want to risk the long drive back to London, so they went on a “short drive” to Barnard Castle to see if he would be able to drive safely.
The family returned to London on April 13, and he went back to work the next day, Mr Cummings said.
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In the hour-long press conference, Mr Cummings declined to apologise for his actions, but conceded that “reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances”.
However, he said: “I don’t regret what I did. I think what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances. The rules made clear that if you are dealing with small children that can be exceptional circumstances.
But following the press conference, Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk, said Mr Cummings should not escape sanction.
He tweeted: “Dominic Cummings has explained his actions and I am sure we can all sympathise with the desire of a father and husband to take the actions he did.
“Dominic Cummings is a high-profile public figure. He may not be an MP, but given his role and profile, it is absolutely vital that he leads by example. Even more so when he has played a significant part in shaping the rules we have been following.
“It is my view that he broke the spirit - if not the letter - of the guidance designed to limit the spread of coronavirus.
“He should now have the courage to admit his judgement was questionable and should be reprimanded.
“He has undermined the whole essence of the government’s key Stay At Home messaging. Given my strong stance imploring people not to visit their second homes here in North Norfolk you can imagine how strongly I feel about this situation.”
He added he had made his views known to senior figures in the government and added: “This story has become a distraction from the otherwise exemplary response by the government and by all of us here in north Norfolk.”
However, Great Yarmouth Conservative MP Brandon Lewis tweeted: “This evening Dominic Cummings has provided a comprehensive account of the events surrounding his travel to Durham.
“As he set out in detail, he followed the guidelines to ensure minimum risk to others & suitable care could be provided to his young child as required.”
Earlier on Monday, Waveney Conservative MP Peter Aldous had called for Mr Cummings to resign having yesterday came out in support after suggesting that “the welfare of Mr Cummings’ child was of understandable importance”.
Mr Aldous said he had “changed his perspective” following a strong public response - including emails from constituents he says have never contacted him before.
But, after the press conference, he said he would wait to see what his constituents thought of Mr Cummings’s explanation, before commenting further.
He said: “What I was motivated by, when I said that, was by what my constituents had been saying to me. I had been hearing from people we had not heard from before and people with no axe to grind.
“But, at the press conference, which was quite spellbinding, and which I hadn’t known was coming when I made my statement this morning, I felt he did answer all of the questions.
“I now want to let the dust settle. I will still be motivated by what my constituents tell me and what their judgement is.”
James Wild, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, tweeted: “My view is that this was a frank statement about the decisions he took to protect his young son and his actions were understandable and reasonable.
He said a number of reports which people had “expressed concern about” were “not accurate”, but that it would have been better if legitimate questions had been answered earlier.
He added:”Now, all the government’s energies should be focused on the recovery plan, including the test and track regime, where Norfolk is one of the lead authorities.”
Earlier on Monday, Mid Norfolk Conservative MP George Freeman had said Mr Cummings needed to give a “clear, coherent and acceptable account and an apology to the British people for not abiding by his own instructions” or else he should resign.
After the conference, he tweeted: “Hmm. Not great. Downing Street Covid briefing and PM’s important announcement on easing lockdown overwhelmed by continuing questions and controversy on #Domnishambles #curfewgate.”
And Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis was unimpressed.
He said: “There’s something ominous about the fact Dominic Cummings and the PM can act with such flagrant impunity.
“There are checks and balances in our democracy that usually cut in to safeguard against abuses of executive power. Some of them now appear to have been clearly ignored or simply circumvented.
“This isn’t just bad for a government, where public confidence in its handling of COVID-19, as well as its authority, is ebbing.
“It’s also bad for our democracy. That worries me almost as much.”