The Government’s two most senior science and health advisers tonight insisted they ‘don’t want to get involved’ in the Dominic Cummings lockdown row as Boris Johnson said he intended to ‘draw a line under it’.
Durham Police today said Mr Cummings’ 260-mile trip to the city did not break lockdown rules while a 60-mile jaunt to a beauty spot only ‘might have’.
The force stopped short of condemning the PM’s top adviser and said he will face no further action.
Reporters used the daily Downing Street press conference to try to ask Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance if the row could harm public compliance with lockdown rules.
Mr Johnson initially tried to shield them from answering questions as he said they should not be required to join what he described as ‘fundamentally a political argument’.
But both Sir Patrick and Prof Whitty then spoke out as they said they had no interest in getting dragged into the row.
Prof Whitty said: ‘I can assure you that the desire not to get pulled into politics is far stronger on the part of Sir Patrick and me than it is in the Prime Minister.’
Sir Patrick added: ‘I am a civil servant, I am politically neutral, I don’t want to get involved in politics at all.’
Mr Johnson had said it was ‘unfair and unnecessary’ to seek opinions on the row from the two independent advisers.
He had been asked by the BBC ‘why should anyone else’ stick to lockdown rules if his aide may have breached them.
Mr Johnson replied: ‘Can I say I have said quite a lot on this matter already and what I also notice Durham Police has said was that they were going to take no action and that the matter was closed.
‘I intend to draw a line under the matter as I said I think yesterday to the parliamentary Liaison Committee. They are not taking any action and I intend to draw a line under it.’
Boris Johnson today said he intended to ‘draw a line under’ the Dominic Cummings lockdown row as he was flanked by Sir Patrick Vallance (left) and Professor Chris Whitty (right)
Reporters, including the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, had sought Prof Whitty’s and Sir Patrick’s opinion on the row but Mr Johnson initially tried to shield them from answering questions
Number 10 special advisor Dominic Cummings leaves his residence in north London today
Downing Street immediately doubled down on its defence of Mr Cummings after Durham Police issued its statement this afternoon, with a Number 10 spokesman saying the matter is now ‘closed’.
Despite the attempt by Mr Johnson to move on from the row, Tory infighting continues over whether Mr Cummings should have been sacked.
One of Mr Johnson’s own ministers, Penny Mordaunt, is among dozens of MPs who have criticised the aide’s ‘inconsistent’ account of his journeys at the height of the lockdown and accused him of undermining the crucial public health message.
Mr Cummings emerged from the shadows on Monday to front an extraordinary press conference of his own in the Downing Street Rose Garden.
He insisted he acted ‘lawfully’ in March when he travelled to Durham with wife Mary Wakefield, who was displaying coronavirus symptoms, and their four-year-old son to seek childcare help from family.
The trio later made a day trip to Barnard Castle, which Mr Cummings – who by then had also been through coronavirus – claims was to test out his eye-sight to see if he was fit to drive.
Durham Police said today that Mr Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle ‘might have’ been in ‘minor breach’ of the regulations.
The force added that if an officer had stopped Mr Cummings on his journey they would have provided ‘advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis’.
Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, ‘no enforcement action would have been taken’.
But Durham Police said they did not consider Mr Cummings self-isolating at his family’s farm a breach of the guidelines, and no further action would be taken.
The £157,000-a-year police chief whose force found itself at the centre of the Dominic Cummings row
Jo Farrell was appointed chief constable of Durham Constabulary last June, becoming the first woman ever to hold the key position in the force’s 180-year history.
During her time at Northumbria Police she was involved with the manhunt for killer Raoul Moat in 2010, and was in command on the night he called the force to say he was hunting for police.
Her appointment as Durham chief capped an impressive rise up the ranks during a career with the police which began nearly 30 years ago when she joined Cambridgeshire Police in 1991 aged 22 as a constable.
Mrs Farrell, whose hobbies include cooking and keeping fit, is married to a retired police officer and has two stepsons and a daughter.
The £156,958-a-year chief was born on the Wirral in Merseyside before moving to Cambridgeshire aged 15 when her father relocated with his job, and then she completing a degree in business at Sheffield Polytechnic.
Mrs Farrell had wanted to join the police since childhood and her first role was a five-year stint on the beat in Cambridge city centre.
Then in 2002 she joined Northumbria Police as a chief inspector before being promoted to assistant chief constable.
In 2016 Mrs Farrell joined Durham Constabulary and took charge of the policing for various high-profile events before her appointment as chief constable, taking over from Mike Barton after his seven-year stint.
Speaking last year, she said: ‘I was 22 when I joined the police and I absolutely loved it. Although I don’t have any family connection with the police, I had always wanted to join and I was so proud when I first became an officer.
‘As I tell all our new recruits, when we get it right, we can have such a positive impact on people’s lives – the difference that we can make is phenomenal’.
She also works on behalf of the National Police Chiefs’ Council in information management and criminal justice file quality.
In a statement the force said: ‘In line with Durham Constabulary’s general approach throughout the pandemic, there is no intention to take retrospective action in respect of the Barnard Castle incident since this would amount to treating
‘Mr Cummings differently from other members of the public. Durham Constabulary has not taken retrospective action against any other person.’
A No10 spokesman said the Prime Minister now considers this matter closed after Durham Police decided not to pursue legal action.
They added: ‘The police have made clear they are taking no action against Mr Cummings over his self-isolation and that going to Durham did not breach the regulations.
‘The Prime Minister has said he believes Mr Cummings behaved reasonably and legally given all the circumstances and he regards this issue as closed.’
The force found itself at the centre of the explosive political row after saying in a statement that it gave advice on lockdown guidelines and self-isolation when officers visited Mr Cummings’ father on March 31.
On Sunday the force backtracked, saying that officers only gave security advice after learning that Mr Cummings was coming from London with his four-year-old son and wife.
The top aide claims he used the journey on his wife’s birthday to check his vision had recovered enough to drive back to London after suffering suspected Covid-19.
He had already travelled 260 miles from the capital to the North East two weeks before to stay at his parents’ farm.
Road police officers warned it was a bad idea to take to road with impaired vision in the wake of the Cummings case.
Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales John Apter wrote on Twitter: ‘Folks, I say this in all sincerity and as an important road safety issue.
‘If you’re feeling unwell and your eyesight may be impaired do not drive your vehicle to test your ability to drive. It’s not a wise move.
‘As a former road death investigator with Hampshire police I have investigated many serious collisions, including fatalities.
‘Some of these were caused by drivers with impaired vision, this is a serious issue. Do not drive if your eyesight is impaired or you feel unwell.’
Mr Johnson ruled out an inquiry into his top advisor yesterday and urged people to ‘move on’ from the incident.
But that has done little to quell anger in the Tory ranks over Mr Cummings behaviour.
Ms Mordaunt, who currently serves as Paymaster General, said there are ‘inconsistencies’ in Mr Cummings’ account and that the row had ‘undermined key public health messages’.
Meanwhile, former chancellor Mr Javid said in a letter to constituents that he did not believe Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham to self-isolate with his family was ‘necessary or justified’.
Tory MP Peter Gibson has admitted travelling from London to the North East by train after developing coronavirus symptoms
Though stopping short of calling for the aide’s resignation as many of his Tory colleagues have done, Mr Javid did call on him to apologise for the controversial journey.
It came as the Tory MP for Darlington, Peter Gibson, admitted he had travelled back to the North East from London by train in March after developing coronavirus symptoms while in Westminster.
Mr Gibson said he had first got a cough on March 11, before lockdown was imposed, and had been advised to return to his Darlington home to self-isolate because he did not have anywhere he could stay safely in the capital.
Mr Johnson flatly dismissed calls for an official inquiry into Mr Cummings yesterday as he told the Liaison Committee he believed it was just a ‘political ding dong’.
The PM said he ‘totally understood public indignation’ about the situation, but insisted some of the allegations about his chief aide were ‘not correct’ and that the matter should now be left in the past.
Many senior ministers have publicly backed Mr Cummings either with comments to the media or through messages on social media.
But it has emerged that Ms Mordaunt was critical of the aide in an email sent to a constituent.
However, she also did not go so far as calling for Mr Cummings to be sacked, insisting it is a ‘matter for the Prime Minister who he has as his adviser’.
‘Despite Mr Cummings’ statement yesterday (on Monday) I am personally still not clear of the facts,’ the minister wrote.
‘There are some inconsistencies in his account of events and the reasons behind it.
‘I am not clear about when he would have been symptomatic and on what dates he should have been in isolation. Or whether it was appropriate he drove home at the time he did.
‘There is no doubt he took risks – refuelling at a petrol station is a risk to oneself and to others, which presumably he did.
The PM has seen his party’s ratings tumble by four points in a week amid the Dominic Cummings row, while support for Labour has gone up five points, according to a YouGov survey for the Times
The PM’s personal ratings have also been plummeting amid the row over his chief adviser’s lockdown activities
‘What is clear is that the scenes of the last few days will have undermined key public health messages. I deeply regret this and am very sorry for it.’
Mr Javid quit as chancellor in February this year during a Cabinet reshuffle following an escalation in tensions with Mr Cummings, who had fired one of his aides without telling him.
He was told by Mr Johnson that to stay in post he would have to accept losing all of his special advisers with Number 10 then hand-picking their replacements.
Mr Javid said he therefore had no choice but to resign, saying in the immediate aftermath: ‘I don’t believe any self-respecting minister would accept those conditions.’
The former Chancellor has now resurfaced to take aim at Mr Cummings over his alleged lockdown breach.
Mr Javid wrote in the letter to constituents: ‘Mr Cummings has argued he acted within the letter of the law.
‘As a father myself, I also appreciate the fear and uncertainty one can feel when the safety of your child is potentially at stake.
‘That being said I do not believe Mr Cummings’ journey to County Durham to isolate on his family’s estate was necessary or justified. I remain unconvinced his visit to Barnard Castle could be considered reasonable.
‘I was also deeply concerned by his decision to return to Downing Street directly after coming into contact with a family member who was ill, potentially with coronavirus.’
The ongoing row over Mr Cummings’ trip came as Mr Gibson revealed he had travelled approximately 250 miles by train to get home after developing Covid-19 symptoms.
Mr Gibson, who was elected for the first time in 2019, told the Northern Echo that he had contacted the MPs’ coronavirus hotline after developing a cough and was told to self-isolate for seven days.
But he said he did not have accommodation in London because he was ‘staying in the spare room of a friend’s flat’.
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
‘I was advised if my normal mode of transport was the train I should use that but should isolate and keep myself to myself, which is what I did,’ he told the newspaper.
He added: ‘Some people will say I should have stayed in London but where was I supposed to stay?’
More than 40 Conservative MPs have called on Mr Cummings to quit his role because of the lockdown journey row.
However, the Prime Minister has so far resisted all requests to punish his aide.
Pushed on whether the Cabinet Secretary should carry out a formal investigation, Mr Johnson said there had been plenty of ‘autobiography’ from Mr Cummings and it would not be a ‘good use of official time’ as everyone was working ‘flat out’ on the coronavirus response.
In one particularly bruising exchange at the Liaison Committee yesterday afternoon, Labour’s Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Yvette Cooper jibed: ‘Forty-thousand people are dead. We need you to get this right now.’
The clashes came with the row over Mr Cummings’ 260-mile trip to Durham during lockdown still threatening to tear the Conservative Party apart.
The party’s poll lead has been slashed by nine points in a week – thought to be the biggest drop in a decade. And despite the desperate plea for the focus to shift on to other subjects, nearly two-thirds of people say the story remains important.
Conservative MP Danny Kruger complained that ‘one wing’ of the party was ‘going bonkers’ by comparing the alleged lockdown breach to ‘the invasion of Suez’.
But in a sign of the depth of anger within the party, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted Mr Cummings ‘clearly’ did break the rules.
A private conference call with government whips and the new intake of Conservative MPs yesterday appeared to have smoothed over matters somewhat. But last night even one of the whips came out with criticism of Mr Cummings.
Mike Freer, MP for Finchley and Golders Green in North London, told the Evening Standard it was ‘entirely reasonable for people to vehemently disagree with his (Mr Cummings) view of events’.
He added: ‘I do not believe it is the conclusion many of my constituents, or myself, would have reached.’
Three more Tories, George Freeman, Giles Watling and Pauline Latham, have called on Mr Cummings to resign.
Former transport minister Mr Freeman tweeted: ‘After 48hrs & c1000 emails from constituents expressing outage at the PM’s Chief of Staff breaking the lockdown & not apologising, it’s clear that public anger at the betrayal of their trust & compliance now risks a collapse of respect for HMG public health advice. DC has to go.’
Amid fierce questioning from MPs at the committee hearing yesterday, Mr Johnson was asked whether the Government’s ‘moral authority’ had been compromised by the row.
‘This has really been going on for several days now – in the media at least,’ he said.
‘I, of course, am deeply sorry for all the hurt and pain and anxiety that people have been going through throughout this period – this country has been going through a frankly most difficult time.
‘We are asking people to do quite exceptionally tough things, separating them from their families.’
Mr Johnson said he would not be adding to his previous comments on Mr Cummings and said the public wanted politicians to focus on ‘uniting our message’ and ‘focusing on their needs’.
Northern Ireland committee chair Simon Hoare – one of around 40 Tory MPs baying for Mr Cummings’ resignation – warned the PM the nation will be ‘far less energetic’ about obeying future restrictions as ‘a direct result of the activities of your senior adviser’.
Mr Hoare asked what MPs should tell constituents who ask ‘if other people don’t abide by it why on earth should we’ because ‘we know what your views are, frankly Prime Minister, I don’t think anybody understands why you hold those views’.
Mr Johnson replied: ‘I don’t think that’s true about how the British people will respond to the next phases, to how to work the test and trace system, I don’t think that’s how they responded at all throughout the crisis.
‘If, just suppose for a second that you were right, which I don’t accept, all the more reason now for us to be consistent and clear in our message driving those key messages.’
Mr Johnson said he had seen evidence to prove that some of the allegations made against Mr Cummings were false.
But asked by Labour MP Meg Hillier whether the Cabinet Secretary should also see that evidence, the PM said: ‘I think actually that it would not be doing my job if I were now to shuffle this problem into the hands of officials who, believe me, Meg, are – as I think the public would want – working flat out to deal with coronavirus…
‘I totally understand public indignation, I totally understand that, but I do think that as I understand things, and I’ve said what I’ve said about the whole business, I think it would be much better if we could now move on and focus on the next steps.’
Under fire from Ms Cooper, Mr Johnson said people could travel to get childcare during lockdown if there were ‘exceptional’ circumstances.
But Ms Cooper demanded on the advice: ‘What is it? Because it is not clear to me.’
Mr Johnson shot back: ‘The clear advice is to stay at home unless you absolutely have to go to work to do your job.
‘If you have exceptional problems with childcare then that may cause you to vary your arrangements.’
Mr Johnson went on to describe the row over Mr Cummings as a ‘political ding dong’, and said: ‘A lot of the allegations that were made about that adviser were simply not correct.’