Prime minister says Dominic Cummings ‘acted with integrity’ - but refuses to address detailed allegations
PUBLISHED: 17:42 24 May 2020 | UPDATED: 19:01 24 May 2020
Prime minister Boris Johnson has publicly backed his top aide Dominic Cummings over allegations he breached lockdown restrictions.
The PM’s chief adviser travelled more than 260 miles with his child during the coronavirus lockdown to Durham in the north east of England, to be near his family.
This, along with further allegations that he later broke lockdown rules for a second time, has sparked outrage among the public, who have questioned why Mr Cummings was able to make this journey while others have been unable to visit family or be with loved ones who have died.
But the prime minister has given a public show of support to his aide, saying he has acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Mr Johnson said: “I have had extensive face-to-face conversations with Dominic Cummings and 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.”
The prime minister also said that “some” of the allegations about Dominic Cummings’ behaviour during self-isolation were “palpably false”.
“Though there have been many other allegations about what happened when he was in self-isolation and thereafter, some of them palpably false, I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally and with integrity and with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives.”
During the press briefing, Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to answer questions about the specific allegations against Mr Cummings, particularly if he had gone to Barnard Castle near Durham.
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer said: “This was a test of the Prime Minister and he has failed it. It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings.
“The public will be forgiven for thinking there is one rule for the Prime Minister’s closest adviser and another for the British people. The Prime Minister’s actions have undermined confidence in his own public health message at this crucial time.
“Millions were watching for answers and they got nothing. That’s why the Cabinet Secretary must now launch an urgent inquiry.”
Shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, tweeted: “(Boris Johnson) said Cummings was following his instincts, the rest of the country was following the rules.
“Where does that leave us if everyone now is to follow their instincts?”
The official UK Civil Service twitter account has tweeted: “Arrogant and offensive.
“Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?”
It tweeted the message about 20 minutes after the conclusion of the Downing Street press conference.
The message had nearly 22,000 likes and over 16,000 retweets before it was deleted.
Green MP Caroline Lucas criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s defence of Dominic Cummings.
She wrote on Twitter: “Unbelievable – PM says Cummings has acted ‘responsibly, legally and with integrity’.
“In fact he’s acted arrogantly, illegally and with gross irresponsibility.
“Even by PM’s own abysmal standards, this must surely be the lowest point.”
READ MORE: What do our MPs make of Cummings’ lockdown journey?
Former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron also criticised Mr Johnson, tweeting: “Politically, BJ has just caused colossal, possibly fatal, damage to his Conservative administration.... but he has also undone any attempt to save lives by effective public health messaging.”
Westminster group leader for the SNP, Ian Blackford, tweeted: “Boris Johnson told us to stay at home and to isolate if we had Covid-19. There was no caveat that this does not apply to Dominic Cummings.
“By supporting Cummings at his press conference Boris Johnson displays a failure of leadership and undermines his own public health messages.”
READ MORE: A&E doctor says confusion over Cummings’ Durham journey could ‘cost lives’
The Prime Minister’s defence of Dominic Cummings came after he acknowledged the damage the allegations had the potential to do.
He said the “big question” that was being asked was “is this Government asking you – the people, the public – to do one thing, while senior people here in Government do something else?”
“Have we been asking you to make sacrifices, to obey social distancing – stay at home – while some people have been basically flouting those rules and endangering lives.”
He said his conversations with Mr Cummings today were “because I take this matter so seriously”.
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