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The prime minister has defended Dominic Cumming’s lockdown-breaking trip to see his parents 260 miles away in Durham as “essential” amid mounting calls for him to be sacked.
Police have confirmed they attended a property in County Durham, prompting political leaders to pile pressure on the PM to sack the 48-year-old strategist for flouting the rules announced by his own boss.
A Downing Street spokesperson has denied that police had spoken to Cummings or his family.
Council leaders for County Durham, as well as senior MPs, have since called on Boris Johnson to sack his top advisor.
In a statement, the spokesperson said: “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.
“His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed.
“His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.
“At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.
“His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”
Meanwhile, local leaders in Durham have reacted furiously to the confirmation that Cummings had travelled to the area after testing positive for Covid-19.
Councillor Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said: “Residents of County Durham who have been observing national government rules for many weeks are shocked to hear reports that a senior government figure travelled to Durham from London with coronavirus symptoms.
“This breach of the rule on self-isolation came at a time when the rate of infection was far higher in central London than in Durham.
“The public health guidance has been very clear and must apply to everyone if our communities are to be protected from this terrible virus.”
Councillor Lucy Hovvels, portfolio holder for adult and health services in County Durham, called for Cummings to be dismissed for “arrogantly and flagrantly flouting the rule” if reports were found to be true.
She added: “The hypocrisy of Dominic Cummings to think he is above his own government’s guidance is staggering. While the vast majority of our residents in County Durham have made such extraordinary and heart-breaking sacrifices during this pandemic, a senior government advisor has driven the length of the country, displaying coronavirus symptoms, to swan back to his parents’ house.
“Our communities will be appalled and will rightly expect us to condemn these irresponsible actions, which are an insult to the people who have lost their lives across our county.
“If the government does not take immediate action against Cummings, it sends a message that there is one set of rules for those who make them and another for the people of the UK.”
Meanwhile, the county’s acting police and crime commissioner described Cummings’ journey from London to County Durham as “most unwise”.
In a statement, Steve White said: “Given the whole ethos of the guidance and regulations issued from the government was to reduce the spread, regardless of reason, by travelling to County Durham when known to be infected was most unwise.
“To beat this crisis we need to be selfless as millions have been. The response by the people of County Durham and Darlington have been exemplary, which makes this most frustrating and concerning.”
White, a former head of the Police Federation in England and Wales, added: “Incidents such as this do not help, and I can appreciate that the longer this goes on the harder it gets, but I encourage the people of County Durham and Darlington to keep up the outstanding effort seen so far by using common sense when following the guidance to stay alert and continue to social distance.”
As Boris Johnson faces intense pressure to sack his top aide, ministers have closed ranks – tweeting near-identical messages in defence of Cummings.
On Saturday morning Michael Gove, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, shared the statement, adding: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”
Caring for your wife and child is not a crime https://t.co/YCXWhKTq28— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) May 23, 2020
Chancellor Rishi Sunak wrote:“Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t,” while foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “It’s reasonable and fair to ask for an explanation on this. And it has been provided: two parents with coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child.
“Those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror.”
At the time of Cummings’ trip to his parents’ home in Durham, the PM’s message to the nation was “a very simple instruction – you must stay at home”.
The rules, announced in a speech that Johnson made to the nation on March 23, stated that people would only be allowed to leave the house for limited purposes.
These were shopping for basics, one form of exercise a day, travelling to and from work, but only where absolutely necessary, and medical needs.
Reinforcing the message, Mr Johnson said people should not meet family members who do not live with them.
The rule on meeting family was unequivocal.
It stated: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.
“You should keep in touch with them using phone or video calls.”
Later on Saturday morning Cummings told reporters who asked about the optics of his trip: “Who cares about good looks. It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.”
Questions have also been raised about a Spectator article, written by Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield, in which she described their quarantine and subsequent emergence into lockdown in London.
Despite the detailed account of their experience with the virus, no mention was made of the family’s 260-mile trip.
In the wake of the news, and Downing Street’s subsequent statement, the government has been accused by leaders of co-ordinating a “cover up”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford said: “What I find interesting is that (according to reports) members of Downing Street knew about this so, first and foremost, Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer over what now appears to be a cover-up.
“The Prime Minister must explain exactly when he knew about the breaking of the rules, whether he sanctioned it, why Cummings wasn’t sacked immediately and why it appears that he tried to cover it up, not telling the public until the newspaper(s) broke the story, eight weeks later, last night.”
He branded the alleged actions the “height of irresponsibility”, and added: “Demonstrably, this is an individual who has broken the advice he has been, in many cases, the architect of delivering.”
Meanwhile, the Labour Party said the “country deserves answers” at the daily Downing Street press conference on Saturday.
Shortly before the press conference, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “From what I can see so far from the Cummings #DurhamGate is government ministers are intent on undermining their own public health message instead of reinforcing it at a crucial time for the UK.
“Another failure to protect us and slow to act decisively.”
From what I can see so far from the Cummings #DurhamGate is government ministers are intent on undermining their own public health message instead of reinforcing it at a crucial time for the U.K. Another failure to protect us and slow to act decisively.— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) May 23, 2020
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.