A ‘debacle’ over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham during lockdown has ‘fatally undermined’ Boris Johnson’s fight against coronavirus, one of the Government’s scientific experts has claimed.
Professor Stephen Reicher, who is a member of the Government’s advisory group on behavioural science which feeds into SAGE, said the actions of the Prime Minister’s top aide would now mean members of the public will question the rules they have been told to follow.
He said the result of ‘undermining adherence to the rules’ will be that ‘more people are going to die’.
The comments come as Mr Johnson is facing an increasingly furious backlash after he attempted to mount an extraordinary defence of Mr Cummings.
At a dramatic press conference in Downing Street last night, the Prime Minister claimed his chief aide had acted ‘responsibly, legally and with integrity’ while making a controversial 260-mile trip from London to Durham during lockdown.
Mr Johnson insisted Mr Cummings had ‘followed the instincts of every father’ by driving to his parents’ farm after his wife developed symptoms of coronavirus.
But he refused to deny that while in the North East, Mr Cummings had also driven 30 miles to go for a walk in the countryside in an apparent second lockdown breach.
And he failed to say whether he had given Mr Cummings permission for the Durham trip – or offer any apology for his most senior aide’s behaviour.
Boris Johnson last night defended his top aide Dominic Cummings despite mounting calls for him to be sacked
Psychology professor Stephen Reicher (pictured) said the Prime Minister’s defence of Mr Cummings had threatened the UK’s fight against coronavirus
Prof Reicher told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme today: ‘If you look at the research it shows the reason why people observed lockdown was not for themselves, it wasn’t because they were personally at risk, they did it for the community, they did it because of a sense of “we’re all in this together”.
‘If you give the impression there’s one rule for them and one rule for us you fatally undermine that sense of “we’re all in this together” and you undermine adherence to the forms of behaviour which have got us through this crisis.’
He added: ‘The real issue here is that because of these actions, because of undermining trust in the Government, because of undermining adherence to the rules that we all need to follow, people are going to die. More people are going to die.’
Prof Reicher, a University of St Andrews academic, had tweeted last night to savage Mr Johnson’s performance at the daily Number 10 press conference.
‘I can say that in a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control Covid-19,’ he said.
‘Be open and honest, we said. Trashed. Respect the public, we said. Trashed. Ensure equity, so everyone is treated the same, we said. Trashed. Be consistent we said. Trashed. Make clear “we are all in it together”. Trashed.’
Shortly after the comment was shared, three other government advisers, two also on the committee, echoed Professor Reicher’s anger.
On Saturday, the Government said Mr Cummings had acted ‘reasonably and legally’ in response to claims he had driven 270 miles from London to Durham with his wife amid the nationwide lockdown.
Retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees then claimed 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. Mr Lees has reportedly made a complaint to the police.
Mr Cummings was photographed back in Downing Street on April 14 before a passerby claimed to have seen him in Durham again on April 19.
But despite more than ten Tory backbenchers demanding Mr Cummings’s head, Mr Johnson refused to bow to public and political pressure to sack his top aide.
He claimed Mr Cummings had ‘no alternative’ but to make the journey when both he and his wife Mary Wakefield were ‘about to be incapacitated by coronavirus.’
The prime minister said he had ‘extensive face-to-face’ talks with Mr Cummings, claiming his close associate had ‘acted responsibly, legally and with integrity’.
Following Professor Reicher’s Tweet, Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London said: ‘I don’t want science to be dragged down by association with dishonesty.
‘My fear is that science, which is key to getting through this pandemic, will be diminished in the eyes of the public.’
Robert West, also part of the advisory group, backed his colleagues as he shared Professor Michie’s post.
Three other Government advisers, including Professor Susan Michie (left) and Professor Robert West (right), also echoed Professor Reicher’s anger
Epidemiologist on the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling Adam Kurcharski (pictured) said it’s going to be more difficult to achieve contact tracing through public adherence
Professor West had earlier tweeted: ‘Conservative MPs and supporters must be feeling alarmed at what is going on in government. It is nothing short of a shambles with Trumpian levels of deceit.
‘The people of this country are being treated like idiots and I doubt that they will stand for it.’
He also implored the public to continue following the guidance on the lockdown, adding: ‘There is a natural human tendency to say, ‘If someone else can flout it, so can I’, but who will suffer? Dominic Cummings won’t suffer if we abandon it, the Prime Minister won’t suffer – it will be the people who we love who will suffer.
Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist on the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, added: ‘I spent this weekend refining our contact tracing analysis.
‘One of the things that’s always stood out is that for these targeted measures to work, we need public adherence to quarantine to be very high.
‘But I fear it’s now going to be far more difficult to achieve this.’