British PM’s aide defies calls to quit after traveling during lockdown
Ramberg/iStockBy JULIA MACFARLANE, ABC News
(LONDON) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings insists that he did not break any rules amid calls for him to resign for traveling to visit his parents’ property in late March, and revealed that he did not offer his resignation to the prime minister, nor did he consider doing so.
Johnson is dealing with a political storm amid the coronavirus pandemic, as it emerged last week that Cummings allegedly broke lockdown rules in March and April.
In a press conference — special advisers in the U.K. have a strict code of conduct which usually forbids them from making speeches or statements or taking part in political activities — Cummings insisted no rules were broken when he took his wife, who was showing symptoms for COVID-19, and his 4-year-old son, more than 250 miles north of London to Durham where his parents own a farm and a cottage on the grounds. Cummings said he and his family self-isolated there.
Addressing accusations that he was flouting the rules he helped to devise, he said: “It’s not just a simple matter of regulations. The regulations describe various exceptional circumstances where it may not be possible to follow the rules.”
Cummings said he fell ill with coronavirus after he had arrived in Durham, but the family continued to self-isolate together at his parents’ cottage — away from their main house — for 14 days. He said the driving factor behind his decision was to be closer to relatives in case he caught the virus from his wife, which would leave his 4-year-old son with two ill parents to care for him. He added that he did not seek child-care support from his family members while in Durham.
He said driving with a “full tank” of petrol in his car to an isolated location where his family members could have looked after his son if necessary was “the safest thing to do” under the circumstances. He added: “If I had stayed in London and something similar had happened, I would have had to get someone else there and expose them to danger.”
Government advice stipulates that if a member of someone’s household falls ill or starts to show symptoms of coronavirus, then they “must stay at home for at least 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.”
Cummings is believed to be one of the key proponents of the government’s “stay at home” strategy. An alumnus of the Brexit Vote Leave campaign of 2016, Cummings has been central to Johnson’s leadership campaigns and the recent general election in December 2019 that led to a decisive Johnson victory.
In his statement, Cummings admitted that he had been spotted by a member of the public near the town of Barnard Castle on April 11.
A joint investigation by two British newspapers claimed that one of his parents’ neighbors in Durham spotted Cummings and his family. The neighbor told the Daily Mirror: “I was really annoyed. I thought it’s ok for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London.”
On Sunday, Johnson himself took over the daily afternoon coronavirus briefing to address the crisis — adding that he had spent almost six hours discussing the chronology of events with Cummings, and that he had concluded that no rules were broken and he had in fact acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity.”
Upon his return from Number 10 on Sunday night, Cummings was filmed walking to his house and met with angry neighbors and bystanders. Earlier in the day, a van parked outside Cummings’ house with a large screen playing a satirical video of Johnson and his cabinet members’ statements urging the public to “stay at home.”
Outrage continued to grow, with lawmakers taking to Twitter on Sunday evening and Monday morning to share the emails they were receiving from angry constituents who had made sacrifices to be without their families in order to abide by the rules.
One Conservative MP — from Johnson’s own party — told BBC radio he had received more than 100 emails from constituents saying the scandal “hit a raw nerve.”
While the majority of cabinet members have tweeted their support for Cummings, a growing number of Conservative MPs have called for him to resign.
The Daily Mail, a rightwing newspaper that is usually sympathetic to Johnson’s administration, published a scathing front page on Monday morning, with an editorial calling for Cummings to either resign or be fired.
The row also received concerned statements from scientists involved in advising the government on its coronavirus response.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, said that Cummings’ actions had undermined efforts to fight the virus and claimed that “more people are going to die” as a result.
A statement Saturday from the Prime Minister’s Office at Number 10 Downing Street refuted claims in the media that the Durham Police had contacted the Cummings family, saying that “at no stage was [Mr Cummings] or his family spoken to by the police.”
But minutes before Cummings’ press conference Monday, the Durham Constabulary issued a new statement: “We can confirm that on April 1, an officer from Durham Constabulary spoke to the father of Dominic Cummings.”
Meanwhile, on the heels of Cummings’ press conference, a junior minister of the United Kingdom’s parliament has resigned.
Douglas Ross stepped down from his post as parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland on Tuesday, saying in a statement, “There was much I still hoped to do in this role but events over the last few days mean I can no longer serve as a member of this government.”
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