Boris Johnson will today face a 90-minute grilling from the Commons Liaison Committee over his handling of the coronavirus crisis and his top aide’s decision to travel during lockdown.
Questions on Dominic Cummings’ trip from London to Durham, along with three other coronavirus topics, will be crammed into a 20-minute slot after intervention from Committee Chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin.
Sir Bernard, who took up the role last week, says the that Covid-19 crisis had ‘led to a centralisation of power’, that makes the prime minister ‘more personally accountable than usual’.
Sir Bernard said: ‘Whether on care homes, PPE, the re-opening of schools, the quarantining of international travellers, on how and when to end to the lockdown, and the economic impact it has been having, committee chairs are in a unique position to scrutinise the whole of government, to bring out truth and to increase understanding within government as well as more widely.’
Boris Johnson (right) is facing 90 minutes of scrutiny today as questions on coronavirus and Dominic Cummings (left) restricted to 20 minutes
Sir Bernard (pictured) has allocated just 20 minutes out of 90 to questions over coronavirus and Dominic Cummings
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, who used to chair the committee and failed three times to get the PM to face scrutiny, said it was vital the UK learns from other countries’ responses appearing on Good Morning Britain this morning.
She also raised concerns that Cummings’ trip to Durham had been ‘very damaging to that core public health message’ and that people had been left feeling there was ‘one rule for them and one rule for others’. Although she said that she believes Sir Bernard would properly scrutinise the PM, she also said she disagreed with the Tory decision to make the chairman an appointed role as opposed to the elected role she filled.
Six Cabinet ministers are thought to have privately told colleagues Dominic Cummings should resign, with 40 Tory MPs calling on Boris Johnson to sack his top aide amid fury over what they say was a breach of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Cummings has faced intense criticism over his decision to drive his family 260 miles from London to Durham at the height of lockdown, with critics accusing him of defying the rules that he helped create.
The aide has refused to apologise over the row, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Heath Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove among a slew of high-profile Conservative figures to publicly back him.
However, at least 40 Tory MPs have now called on Cummings to quit, while sources say as many as six Cabinet minister privately believe he should leave his post.
Douglas Ross become the first minister to resign over the row yesterday, with the junior Scotland minister saying he could not support Cummings over his constituents who had followed the rules.
Downing Street is facing anger from various sections of the Conservative Party over its handling of the row with many more Tory MPs on top of the 40 who have made clear Mr Cummings should go also expressing disquiet. They include MPs who won seats in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ during the 2019 general election.
Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader, former attorney general Jeremy Wright and Mark Harper, a former chief whip, are among those calling for Cummings to go.
Dominic Cummings has faced intense criticism over his decision to drive his family 260 miles from London to Durham at the height of lockdown
The Prime Minister is one of several high-ranking Conservative politicians to publicly back Cummings despite rising anger within the Tory party
Douglas Ross resigned as junior Scotland minister yesterday over the row. Cummings (right) refused to apologise for breaching restrictions on Monday
The news that Cabinet ministers are also considering Cummings’ future, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, comes as a shock new poll revealed that 55 per cent of Conservative voters believe that the aide should resign.
It also revealed that an astonishing 66 per cent of people believe Cummings is not telling the truth on his breaching of lockdown restrictions.
At Tuesday’s daily Downing Street briefing, Matt Hancock insisted Dominic Cummings did not break lockdown rules by travelling 260 miles to Durham.
Tory MPs who have called for Dominic Cummings to be sacked
The number of Tory MPs who have now called for Mr Cummings to be sacked after his press conference stands at at least 30.
They are believed to be:
Douglas Ross – Scotland minister who has quit
Harriett Baldwin – former Treasury minister
Sir Roger Gale – Tory veteran, MP since 1983
Martin Vickers – Eurosceptic MP for Cleethorpes
Peter Bone – leading Brexit campaigner in 2016
Craig Whittaker – former Tory whip
Robert Goodwill – former environment minister
Paul Maynard – ex-transport minister
Mark Pawsey – MP for Rugby for 10 years
Sir Robert Syms – MP for Poole since 1997
Tim Loughton – former children’s minister
Jason McCartney – former RAF officer
Peter Aldous – MP for Waveney since 2010
John Stevenson – solicitor and MP for Carlisle
Caroline Nokes – ex-immigration minister
Damian Collins – chair of DCMS select committee
Philip Davies – outspoken backbench MP
Julian Sturdy – farmer and MP for York Outer
Alec Shelbrooke – backed Jeremy Hunt for leadership
Mark Harper – former chief whip
Stephen Hammond – arch Remainer MP for Wimbledon
Simon Hoare – Only an MP since 2015
Andrew Percy – ex-Northern Powerhouse minister
David Warburton – MP for Froome since 2015
Steve Baker – Former ERG chairman and Brexiteer
Andrew Jones – North Yorkshire MP since 2010
Jeremy Wright – Former Attorney General and DCMS Secretary
Bob Neill – Justice Select Committee chair
James Gray – MP for North Wiltshire for 23 years
George Freeman – Former transport minister
Mark Garnier – Wyre Forest MP since 2010
Jackie Doyle-Price – Thurrock MP and former civil servant
Stephen Metcalfe – Father-of-two with wife Angela
Elliot Colburn – Carshalton and Wallington MP since December
Bob Stewart – Former British Army officer
Mr Hancock said that it is his view that Mr Cummings had acted ‘within the guidelines’ but he could ‘understand why reasonable people can take a different view’.
The Health Secretary added: ‘But my judgement, which is the same as the Prime Minister’s judgement, is that what Mr Cummings did was within the guidelines.’
His comments came after the Government was hit by the resignation of Douglas Ross as junior Scotland minister over the row as he said Mr Cummings’ press conference on Monday had left many ‘unanswered questions’.
Mr Ross, a qualified football referee who was previously best known for missing a Commons vote to run the line in a Champions League game, said in his resignation letter he could not in ‘good faith’ tell his constituents ‘they were all wrong’ to observe lockdown ‘and one senior adviser to the government was right’.
His resignation comes amid outrage in the party over the row, with 40 Tory MPs calling on Cummings to leave his role
However, some senior figures in the party believe there could be an element of ‘settling of scores’ being at play, with many Tory MPs known to have frosty relationships with Cummings because of differences of opinion over Brexit.
One senior Tory told MailOnline that there is ‘undoubtedly a variety of motives… varying from settling of scores to inexperience’ as they said all Conservative MPs ‘owe a duty to the PM to support him’.
Meanwhile, a former minister said Tory critics needed to realise that the PM had made a final decision and had effectively ‘lashed himself to the mast’.
More than 20 MPs signalled on Monday before Mr Cummings’ unprecedented Downing Street press conference that they believed he needed to quit. Many have now confirmed their stance remains unchanged while a number of their colleagues have also broken ranks.
Mark Pawsey said ‘Mr Cummings has acted against the spirit of the lockdown and the Prime Minister should now ask for his resignation’ while former chief whip Mark Harper said the aide ‘should have offered to resign, and the Prime Minister should have accepted his resignation’.
Simon Jupp said that if he was Mr Cummings he ‘would have since considered my position’ and Tory select committee chairman William Wragg said ministers were ‘degrading’ themselves by defending the aide.
A Number 10 spokesman said Mr Johnson thanked Mr Ross, 37, for his ‘service to government and regrets his decision to stand down’ while Labour said the MP had ‘done the decent thing’ by quitting.
It came as the leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party wrote to Mr Johnson to tell him that trust in public health advice could only be restored if Mr Cummings is removed ‘without further delay’.
Michael Gove had earlier defended the PM’s top aide as a ‘man of honour and integrity’ and said ‘people will make their own mind up’ about the trip to Durham after Mr Cummings refused to apologise.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office 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.
Douglas Ross, pictured with Boris Johnson during the general election campaign in November 2019, resigned as junior Scotland minister over the Dominic Cummings lockdown row
MP Douglas Ross, MP for Moray, pictured after he resigned from his post following the Dominic Cummings fiasco. This is him walking his Dog Murphy near his home address in Alves, Moray, Scotland
Dominic Cummings, pictured leaving his London home yesterday, said on Monday that he had no regrets about his 260 mile drive to Durham during lockdown
Number 10 would have been hoping that Mr Cummings’ extraordinary press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden would dampen Tory and public fury.
But Mr Ross quitting will pile fresh pressure on Mr Johnson over his decision to stand by Mr Cummings as some Tory MPs believe the row could become a new ‘poll tax moment’ for the Conservative Party which could damage it for years to come.
Mr Cummings is also facing questions after he said he had driven to Barnard Castle, 30 miles away from Durham, after isolation to check his eyesight – a move the former Greater Manchester Police chief constable Sir Peter Fahy said ‘appears to be against the Highway Code’.
55% of Tory voters say Dominic Cummings should resign over his ‘lockdown breach’ journeys
A majority of Conservative supporters believe that Dominic Cummings should be fired for breaking coronvirus rules, according to a new poll.
The Prime Minister’s most trusted aide is under intense pressure for driving 260 miles from London to Durham with his family at the height of lockdown and has faced calls from across the political spectrum to resign.
Now, a poll from JL Partners for the Daily Mail has revealed that 66 per cent of people think Cummings should leave his post amid the row, including 55 per cent of all Conservative voters.
A further 63 per cent believe Boris Johnson should sack his right hand man, including 53 per cent of Tory supporters.
Perhaps even more damning is the statistic that 80 per cent of people and almost three quarters of Conservative supporters agree that Cummings broke the rules he played a key role in drawing up.
In further bleak news for the Prime Minister, the research suggests that former Labour voters in the ‘Red Wall’ in the North and Midlands have reacted particularly badly to the row.
At 72 per cent, working class ‘C1/C2’ voters are more likely to think the government is behaving as though ‘it is one rule for them and another rule for everyone else’, while 69 per cent are more likely to say Cummings is not telling the truth than voters overall.
The new survey comes after Mr Johnson’s personal approval rating plummeted from 19 per cent to minus one per cent in days.
Mr Gove also defended Mr Cummings on this issue as he told LBC that he too had ‘on occasions in the past’ driven with his wife to check his own eyesight.
It also emerged yesterday that Mr Johnson did not tell a meeting of the Cabinet on Monday afternoon that Mr Cummings was going to host his own press conference as ministers were told by Attorney General Suella Braverman that ‘no laws have been broken’ by Mr Cummings.
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 Monday 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.
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.’
Matt Hancock announced the Government could review all penalty fines issued to families caught travelling ‘for childcare reasons’ during the lockdown after the Dominic Cummings row as a vicar demanded answers at the daily press conference
Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street Tuesday, said on Monday that his support for his top aide was not ‘unconditional’
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.’
Sir Peter’s comments came after NHS bosses expressed concerns the row could ‘damage’ confidence in the Government’s coronavirus lockdown guidance.
Matt Hancock confirms whole TOWNS could face ‘local lockdowns’ if they have a flare-up of coronavirus
‘Local lockdowns’ could be imposed on whole towns if there are regional flare-ups of coronavirus cases in England, Matt Hancock confirmed today.
The Health Secretary said the ability to tighten restrictions in individual regions will be part of the NHS test, track and trace system – which is set to expand on June 1.
This could lead to local schools, businesses or workplaces being closed in areas with high prevalence of infection, according to the government’s road map on easing lockdown restrictions.
Mr Hancock told the daily Downing Street press briefing: ‘I know there’s been a specific problem in terms of flare ups and in terms of the number of cases, particularly in Barrow in Furness.
‘We will have local lockdowns in future where there are flare-ups and we have a system we are putting in place with a combination of Public Health England and the new Joint Biosecurity Centre, along with the local directors of public health who play an absolutely crucial role in the decision-making in the system, to make sure if there is a local flare-up there is a local lockdown.’
The latest figures on confirmed cases show they remain relatively high in the North East, with 495 confirmed cases per 100,000 population in Sunderland, 493 per 100,000 in Gateshead and 491 per 100,000 in South Tyneside.
In parts of South West England, the figures is as low as 105 per 100,000 (South Somerset), 96 per 100,000 (Dorset) and 95 per 100,000 (West Devon).
Barrow-in-Furness, with 831 confirmed cases per 100,000, has the highest figure both for England and the whole of the UK.
NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson told the BBC: ‘Because of the way this story has unfolded there is certainly concern among our members, health leaders, that it could damage staff and public confidence in official guidance.
‘You can’t say too often that the guidance has actually saved thousands of lives, and I think if we look forward over the next few weeks, following guidance is going to be as vital as ever and actually it’s going to be more complex because as lockdown eases the advice is, frankly, less binary and people have to exercise more discretion.
‘So I think there is concern that this has been a distraction and that it’s not been helpful, and the fear is that it has made people on the front line frustrated and fearful.’
Mr Dickson later clarified he expected staff would follow the guidance but the incident could ;undermine more generally staff confidence in Government pronouncements’.
Mr Cummings’ failure to show any contrition during the 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.’
I CAN NO LONGER SERVE AS A MEMBER OF THIS GOVERNMENT: DOUGLAS ROSS’S STATEMENT
‘I have just tendered my resignation from the UK Government and my position as Under Secretary of State for Scotland.
‘Following my re-election as MP for Moray last December, I was honoured to be asked by the Prime Minister to join his Government and take on this role in the Scotland Office.
‘It is a position I have relished and one I’ve committed to wholeheartedly since my appointment.
‘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.
‘I have never met Dominic Cummings so my judgment on this matter has always been open and I accept his statement on Monday afternoon clarified the actions he took in what he felt were the best interests of his family. However, these were decisions many others felt were not available to them.
‘As a father myself, my instinct is to always do what is best for my son and wife. We have been fortunate not to have caught this awful virus but, if we did, we are prepared to follow the government advice and stay at home to contain this virus.
‘While the intentions may have been well-meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’ interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the Government asked.
‘I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the Government.
‘I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the Government was right.
‘This is not a decision I have reached quickly. I have waited to hear all of the information and thought long and hard over this.
‘I realise both the immediate and long-term implications of my decision to resign from Government.
‘While it has been a great privilege to serve as a minister, my first duty is to be a representative and I feel I can best represent my Moray constituents and many across the country who have expressed their feelings about this by resigning as a minister.
‘I look forward to continuing to stand up for the people of Moray from the back benches.’
The 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’.