Top government aide Dominic Cummings now faces a possible police investigation after he was reported to officers by a retired teacher who claims he saw the Downing Street power-broker taking a trip to a town 30 miles away from where he went to self-isolate.
Retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees has reportedly made a complaint to the police after claiming he saw Mr Cummings and his family on April 12 walking in the town of Barnard Castle, according to the Guardian and the Mirror.
The town is 30 miles from Durham, where the aide had been self-isolating after travelling more than 270 from London.
The latest revelation comes as Boris Johnson tonight refused to bow to public and political pressure to sack Dominic Cummings tonight amid rising fury over multiple alleged lockdown breaches by the top Downing Street power-broker.
In a sign of the scope of the political crisis the Prime Minister faced television cameras for only the third time since his own brush with the killer pandemic to mount a broad-spectrum defence of his chief of staff at the end of a bruising weekend during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Johnson took the daily Downing Street news conference as a late replacement for Housing Minister Robert Jenrick, who himself has faced criticism for seeing out the lockdown at a home in Herefordshire, 170 miles from his Newark constituency.
But despite ten Tory backbenchers demanding the scalp of his closest adviser and the mastermind of the Brexit Vote Leave campaign, Mr Johnson backed the divisive Machiavellian figure of Mr Cummings over revelations he twice travelled 270 miles from London to Durham while the public were told to stay at home.
Mr Cummings was in Downing Street for more than five hours this afternoon, fuelling speculation he would quit, as the first cracks in Tory unity appeared. Nine Conservative backbenchers demanded his head after allegations of the second trip north, in April, emerged in today’s Sunday Mirror and Observer newspapers.
Mr Johnson said tonight he had ‘extensive face-to-face’ talks with Mr Cummings today, saying his close associate had ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’.
He added: ‘I think he followed the instincts of any father and any parent, and I don’t mark him down for that.’
He added that ‘some’ of the allegations about Dominic Cummings’ behaviour during self-isolation were ‘palpably false’ but did not elaborate.
He also declined to answer whether his chief of staff, as reported, drove to the picturesque village of Barnard’s castle when such outdoor excursions were banned for the public.
Labour leader Sir Keir 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.’
Lib Dem leader Ed Davy said Mr Johnson’s appearance ‘confirms there is one rule for us and another for him and his friends’.
In a sign of the scope of the political crisis the Prime Minister faced cameras for only the third time since his own brush with the killer pandemic when he took the daily Downing Street news conference
Mr Cummings (pictured today in London) has been accused of repeatedly travelling 270 miles from London to Durham (above) to see his parents, while the public were told to stay at home
Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield (pictured outside their home today) was ill with coronavirus when they travelled north
Senior ministers have this weekend allied around the Machiavellian figure, insisting he was acted as a concerned parent and broke no rules when he went north in late March. Cummings is pictured leaving his home today
In a since-deleted tweet even the Civil Service had thoughts on Mr Johnson’s press conference performance. There have been rumors of a clash between top civil servants including Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill and Cummings
Millions of people who’ve made huge sacrifices to keep to the rules will be astonished and angry at how the Prime Minister is now bending the rules for his closest aide,’ he said.
‘By failing to act, the Prime Minister undermines his own authority to lead the country through this appalling crisis, bringing his own judgement into question.’
Timeline of Cummings’ lockdown row
March 23: As the coronavirus crisis escalates, the UK is placed into lockdown with strict limitations on travel.
The Government guidelines state: ‘You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.’
Those in a household with symptoms must ‘stay at home and not leave the house’ for up to 14 days.
March 27: Both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus, while chief medical officer Chris Whitty says he has symptoms of the disease and is self-isolating.
March 30: Downing Street confirms Mr Cummings is suffering from coronavirus symptoms and is self-isolating.
March 31: Durham police are ‘made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city’.
The force said officers ‘made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.
‘In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.’
April 5: An unnamed neighbour tells the Mirror and the Guardian Mr Cummings was seen in his parents’ garden.
‘I got the shock of my life as I looked over to the gates and saw him,’ they said.
March 30 – April 6: The period Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield describes the family’s battle with coronavirus in the April 25 issue of the Spectator.
She makes no mention of the trip to Durham and describes the challenges of caring for their son while suffering the symptoms of Covid-19.
She says their small son nursed Mr Cummings with Ribena.
April 12: Robert Lees, a retired chemistry teacher, claims to have seen Mr Cummings 30 miles away from his parents home in Barnard Castle.
April 14: Mr Cummings returns to work for the first time since news he was suffering from Coronavirus emerged.
Questions are raised about his adherence to social distancing advice as he is photographed walking down Downing Street with fellow aide Cleo Watson.
April 19: A passer-by claims to have spotted Mr Cummings and his family admiring bluebells with his wife, back in Durham.
May 22: News breaks in the Mirror and the Guardian of Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham.
May 23: Downing Street stands by the PM’s chief aide, saying in a statement: ‘Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.’
That evening, a joint Sunday Mirror and Observer investigation reveals the two new eyewitness claims.
And there was criticism growing from the Tory benches, with Sir Roger Gale saying: ‘I’m very disappointed, I think it was an opportunity to put this to bed and I fear that now the story is simply going to run and run.’
And David Warburton, the MP for Somerton and Frome, tweeted: ‘As much as I despise any baying pitchfork-led trials by social media, I’m unconvinced by the PM’s defence of Cummings. We’ve all been tasked with tempering our parental, and other, instincts by strictly adhering to Govt guidance.’
Mr Johnson insisted it was ‘absolutely responsible’ for Mr Cummings to to travel to Durham to self-isolate.
‘The advice makes it absolutely clear that if you have particular childcare issues then that is a factor that has to be taken into account and when I look at what actually happened, Dominic Cummings and his family self-isolated for 14 days and that is what you’ve got to do,’ he said.
‘And there was a risk that if they both went under, in such a way to be unable to care for their child, then they might have needed the help of relatives living nearby who could come in a socially distanced way.
‘As it happened that was not necessary for medical reasons I don’t want to go into.
‘But that was the risk, and I think it was a real risk and I think it was absolutely responsible of Dominic Cummings to see the risk to his family and to see the risk to his child and to take steps to avert it, and that’s what he did.
‘That in no way changes the guidance or the advice.’
Earlier Nicola Sturgeon had weighed in, calling for Mr Cummings to quit his post, drawing a comparison to the resignation of Catherine Calderwood as Scotland’s chief medical officer after she visited her second home twice earlier in the crisis.
Ms Sturgeon, who initially declined to sack Ms Calderwood, tweeted: ‘I know it is tough to lose a trusted adviser at the height of crisis, but when it’s a choice of that or integrity of vital public health advice, the latter must come first. That’s the judgment I and, to her credit, Catherine Calderwood reached. PM and Cummings should do likewise.’
Senior ministers have this weekend allied around the Machiavellian figure, insisting he was acted as a concerned parent and broke no rules when he went north in late March.
But last night the Downing Street adviser was rocked by fresh claims of flouting the strict national guidelines from two more witnesses, which whipped up a further frenzy for him to be sacked.
Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister and a senior hardline Brexiteer like Mr Cummings, broke cover to demand the Prime Minister ‘take back control’ of events squirming from his grasp.
Mr Baker told Sky News that Mr Cummings’ career had always ‘created an awful lot of collateral damage’, including the Brexit campaign, adding: ‘He is not always right and he certainly isn’t indispensable’.
‘If he doesn’t resign, we’ll just keep burning through Boris’s political capital at a rate we can ill afford in the midst of this crisis,’ he said.
‘It is very clear that Dominic travelled when everybody else understood Dominic’s slogans to mean ”stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives”.
‘And I think mums and dads who very much care about their children and who have been forgoing the childcare of their extended family will wonder why he has been allowed to do this.
‘I really just don’t see, as we approach the Prime Minister (appearing) at the liaison committee on Wednesday, how this is going to go away unless Dominic goes.’
A protest by political campaign group Led by Donkey’s drives past the home of Dominic Cummings this afternoon playing clips of Mr Johnson telling people to stay at home
Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister and a senior hardline Brexiteer like Mr Cummings, broke cover to demand the advisor be removed, demanding the Prime Minister ‘take back control’ of events squirming from his grasp
Mr Johnson said tonight he had ‘extensive face-to-face’ talks with Mr Cummings today, saying his close associate had ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’
Mr Cummings arrived in Westminster this lunchtime as the first cracks in Tory unity appeared over revelations he twice travelled 270 miles from London to Durham while the public were told to stay at home
Tory MPs call for Dominic Cummings to resign
These are the Conservative backbenchers who have demanded Dominic Cummings quit or endorsed calls by other MPs:
- Steve Baker
- Simon Hoare
- Damian Collins
- Sir Roger Gale
- Peter Bone
- William Wragg
- Caroline Nokes
- Craig Whittaker
- Sir Robert Syms
- Julian Sturdy
He also tweeted for Cummings to go, with his message retweeted by Hazel Grove MP William Wragg and another Brexiteer, Sir Peter Bone, told LBC the advisor should quit, saying: ‘When an adviser becomes the story, the adviser has to go.’
Simon Hoare, the Tory North Dorset MP and Northern Ireland Select Committee chairman later added his voice to the call, tweeting: ‘With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the Government’s reputation he must consider his position.
‘Lockdown has had its challenges for everyone. It’s his cavalier ”I don’t care; I’m cleverer than you” tone that infuriates people. He is now wounding the PM/Govt & I don’t like that.’
Damian Collins, the former culture committee chairman, also went public this morning, tweeting: ‘Dominic Cummings has a track record of believing that the rules don’t apply to him and treating the scrutiny that should come to anyone in a position of authority with contempt. The government would be better without him.’
And Sir Roger Gale, the North Thanet MP, said: ‘While as a father and as a grandfather I fully appreciate Mr Cummings’ desire to protect his child, there cannot be one law for the Prime Minister’s staff and another for everyone else. He has sent out completely the wrong message and his position is no longer tenable.’
Meanwhile former immigration minister Caroline Nokes tweeted: ‘I made my views clear to my whip yesterday.
‘There cannot be one rule for most of us and wriggle room for others. My inbox is rammed with very angry constituents and I do not blame them. They have made difficult sacrifices over the course of the last weeks weeks.’
This lunchtime Robert Halfon the former skills minister and another select committee chairman, apologised for tweeting in support of Mr Cummings yesterday.
Writing on Facebook the Harlow MP said: ‘I regret writing the tweet yesterday in the way I did about the Number 10 political adviser and his movements. I am really sorry for it.
‘I do not support, or condone anyone who has broken the law or regulations. Anyone who has done so should face the consequences.’
He added: ‘If it is true as reported in today’s Sunday newspapers that there have been breaches of the regulations by this individual, then without doubt action should be taken by the appropriate authorities. No one – whoever they are – should be above the regulations or the rule of law.’
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps attempted to defend Mr Cummings, telling Ridge he was ‘trying to do his best’ for his four-year-old son. He later admitted to the BBC’s Andrew Marr that he had not spoken to Mr Cummings before being sent out to defend him on television.
Asked directly if Mr Cummings would resign, Mr Shapps said: ‘No.’
Simon Hoare, the Tory North Dorset MP and Northern Ireland Select Committee chairman later added his voice to the call, tweeting: ‘With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the Government’s reputation he must consider his position
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps attempted to defend Mr Cummings, telling Ridge he was ‘trying to do his best’ for his four-year-old son
He told the Sophy Ridge show: ‘I don’t have all the times and dates for you but I understand he will have travelled up there towards the end of March and stayed there, remained there for 14 days, didn’t leave the property and isolation, as per the rules and guidance.’
Mr Shapps said the latest allegations, that Mr Cummings returned to Durham on a second trip and was spotted on April 19, were untrue.
Boris commits to school reopening on June 1 despite union fury
Boris Johnson announced schools in Britain will reopen on June 1, as he attempted to deflect media attention away from the Dominic Cummings row.
He used tonight’s press conference to confirm some primary schools will open in little more than a week, with secondary schools to provide ‘some contact’ from 15 June.
It comes after weeks of wrangling between the government and teachers unions over coronavirus safety concerns.
But today Mr Johnson said the phased reopening of schools was ‘crucial’ for children.
He also acknowledged it ‘may not be possible’ for all schools to reopen in the coming weeks.
‘The education of children is crucial for their welfare, for their long-term future and for social justice,’ he said.
‘In line with the approach being taken in many other countries, we want to start getting our children back into the classroom in a way that is as manageable and as safe as possible.
‘We said we would begin with early years’ settings and reception, year one, and year six in primary schools.
‘Today, I can announce it is our intention to go ahead with that as planned on June 1, a week on Monday.
‘We then intend from June 15 for secondary schools to provide some contact for year 10 and year 12 students to help them to prepare for exams next year, with up to a quarter of these students in at any point.’
Today’s announcement comes just days after union chiefs told teachers to demand detailed answers to at least 169 questions from their bosses on issues such as bin lids, coronavirus counselling and employing extra staff to clean paint brushes, scissors and glue sticks before agreeing to return to school.
‘I think there are more stories today that I’m seeing that he travelled backwards and forwards, accusations he then went back up to Durham again further times – I understand it is completely untrue.
‘When he came back to London, which was on April 14 I see, he has remained in London since and hasn’t been back to Durham.
‘There are all kinds of things that are being said here that are completely untrue.
‘The basic story is actually pretty straightforward. Husband and wife were ill, they hunker down, they look after their four-year-old and they don’t move until they are better.
‘And coming back down to London afterwards, they would have been travelling for essential work which is always allowed as well.’
Mr Cummings left his home in north London with his wife and son shortly after 11am this morning. After one journalist asked if he had returned to Durham in April, Mr Cummings said: ‘No, I did not.’
Labour demanded Mr Johnson take today’s coronavirus press conference to ‘answer questions about what happened, what he knew and what he is going to do about it’.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told Marr: ‘What we’re asking for, for two things: firstly for there to be an urgent investigation by the Cabinet Office, and second for the Prime Minister today to take the press conference, the daily press conference, himself to provide answers, because this is an extraordinarily serious situation.
‘The British people have made sacrifices, extraordinary sacrifices, to get through this crisis by following the guidelines.
‘We know of grandparents, for example, who’ve not seen their grandchildren for months, sometimes newborn grandchildren, people who’ve died alone without families by their side, people who’ve not been able to attend funerals, and that’s happened because people have followed the guidelines.’
And A senior Tory echoed the call today. Former defence minister Tobias Ellwoodtweeted: ‘Government GOVERNMENT is entering the most complex phase of biggest emergency since WW2.
Ex-top cop says ministers living in a ‘bubble of self-privilege
A former chief constable of Durham Police has accused ministers of living in a ‘bubble of self-privilege and denial’ over the defence of Dominic Cummings.
Mike Barton accused ministers of operating under a ‘feudal’ system that held different classes to different standards.
Mr Barton, who stepped down last year, told the Guardian: ‘It is clear he has broken the rules. It could not be clearer.
‘I cannot think of a worse example of a breach of the lockdown rules.
‘For it then to be defended by the government just beggars belief.’
‘But the ship is being blown off course. Time for a FORMAL ADDRESS from the Captain offering firm leadership, command & control to resolve setbacks, re-unite collective resolve & rebuild mission focus.’
The first witness claimed to have seen Mr Cummings on Easter Sunday at a town 30 miles away from his parents’ Durham farm where he was self-isolating with his wife and son – despite earlier insisting he had ‘stayed put’ the whole time.
A second said they sighted Mr Cummings back in Durham on April 19, five days after he had returned to work in Westminster – suggesting he made a second 264-mile trip to the North East.
They come after the Number 10 chief was on Friday branded a hypocrite for ignoring the same lockdown instructions to stay at home which he himself helped to craft.
Last night’s revelations in the Observer and Sunday Mirror have poured petrol on the row engulfing the PM’s aide, who the public decisively believe breached restrictions, a YouGov poll found.
Before the latest accusations of rule-breaking emerged, allies said Mr Johnson had ‘thrown a protective ring’ around his most senior lieutenant because he had a ‘compelling case’ for his trip which earned him ‘the benefit of the doubt’.
‘Breaking lockdown to see your mistress is very different from doing everything to protect your toddler,’ said one.
The PM told friends: ‘Dominic acted within the guidance and was simply caring for his family. I now consider the matter closed.’
The premier also added: ‘It’s not like he was visiting a lover,’ suggesting Mr Cummings was not poised to suffer the same fate as Sage scientist Prof Neil Ferguson.
Mr Johnson told allies he would not throw Mr Cummings ‘to the dogs’, according to the Sunday Times.
However last night’s claims the 48-year-old Vote Leave mastermind broke lockdown rules repeatedly is likely to test the PM’s support, with one Downing Street insider branding Mr Cummings’s behaviour ‘Domnishambles’.
Number 10 furiously rubbished the reports and said it will not ‘waste time answering a stream of false allegations from campaigning newspapers’.
But there is growing fury inside Tory ranks at Mr Cummings’ astonishing behaviour. One Cabinet minister told the Sunday Times he had made them look like ‘hypocrites’ over the harsh lockdown measures forced upon the British public.
And an adviser channelled Monty’ Python’s cult film The Life of Brian, saying: ‘He’s proved he’s not the Messiah, he’s actually a very naughty boy’.
No10 was facing a fire on another front after Durham Constabulary last contradicted Downing Street’s statement that police had not spoken to Mr Cummings’s family about him travelling to Durham in late March.
The force last night released its own statement confirming officers had in fact spoken to Mr Cummings’s father Robert about the matter.
Durham bolt-hole: The family property Mr Cummings and his family is said to have fled to during the height of the coronavirus lockdown
Boris Johnson last night mounted a determined defence of his controversial aide Dominic Cummings, telling allies: ‘It’s not like he was visiting a lover’ when he allegedly broke lockdown rules (pictured in September)
Dominic Cummings and wife Mary Wakefield, who wrote about her husband’s coronavirus battle
The property in Durham has a series of outbuildings, and it is thought Mr Cummings stayed in one of them with his family
Mr Cummings’ parents’ farm, where he relocated with his wife and son when they came down with coronavirus symptoms
Cummings’s ex-brother in law comes to his defence
Dominic Cummings’s ex-brother-in-law last night rode to his defence by insisting it was ‘very, very easy’ for the PM’s chief adviser to self-isolate at his parents’ home in Durham.
Matthew Herriott, a farmer who lives close to North Lodge, said that the property includes a number of self-contained apartments attached to the main building, which are only accessible via a separate entrance.
It meant that Cummings, his wife Mary Wakefield and their young son were able to stay in the £800,0000 sandstone farmhouse without coming into contact with his parents, Morag and Robert.
There are also outbuildings on the estate where guests are believed to stay from time to time.
In a statement yesterday, Downing Street insisted Mr Cummings’s sister shopped for the family and left everything outside the door.
‘North Lodge is without question big enough to accommodate that amount of people,’ Mr Herriott told The Mail on Sunday. ‘It’s one building but it’s split into separate apartments so it’s very, very easy for everyone to self-isolate.
‘It has several extensions, if you will, so it’s more than adequate to live there and not to have any contact with anybody whatsoever. It is also set in an acre of grounds I believe.’
Mr Cummings claims he travelled to Durham so his parents, Robert, 73, and Morag, 71, could look after his four-year-old son if both he and his wife were stricken by the virus.
Mr Cummings swatted away questions from reporters yesterday, saying: ‘It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think,’ he said.
He also berated photographers for not following social distancing rules by staying two metres apart.
His mother also let rip on a reporter. Speaking from the family home via intercom, she said: ‘I have got one thing to say, Dominic’s uncle died on Palm Sunday and you should be ashamed of yourself.’
A host of Cabinet ministers also rallied round. Michael Gove, Mr Cummings’ former boss, tweeted: ‘Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.’ Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock also offered backing.
But a tweet from Mr Johnson’s account yesterday afternoon underlined the issue ministers face explaining the situation.
‘If you have symptoms of #coronavirus, you should self-isolate and get yourself tested,’ the message said.
The government guidance at the time said that those self-isolating ‘must stay at home and not leave the house’, as well as ‘staying away’ from vulnerable elderly people. In an account of their ordeal published last month, Mr Cummings’ journalist wife Mary Wakefield also described how he was nursed by their small son with Ribena – suggesting he stayed with them throughout. The PM’s official spokesman told reporters at the time that Mr Cummings was isolating ‘at home’.
Boris Johnson’s statement on Dominic Cummings in full
I want to begin by answering the big question that people have been asking in the last 48 hours. And that is – 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, to stay at home while some people have been basically flouting those rules and endangering lives?
And it is because I take this matter so seriously and frankly it is so serious that I can tell you today 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.
And 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.