Boris Johnson faces renewed Tory pressure to sack Dominic Cummings
Pressure on Boris Johnson to sack Dominic Cummings has intensified, as at least 18 Conservative MPs publicly called on the adviser to face the consequences of breaking lockdown rules.
The prime minister backed his senior aide at a defiant press conference on Sunday, saying it had been within the rules for Cummings to drive his family 264 miles to his parents’ estate in Durham while his wife was suffering coronavirus symptoms.
He claimed his adviser had acted “responsibly, legally, and with integrity” and followed his instincts as a father by travelling to seek possible backup childcare for his four-year-old son.
Key questions remain unanswered by Downing Street, including whether Cummings stopped at any service stations en route to Durham, potentially infecting other travellers when the whole family should have been in isolation, and whether he later made a 30-mile day trip to Barnard Castle from Durham with his family at a time when non-essential journeys were banned.
Johnson’s defence of Cummings failed to staunch an outpouring of anger among Tory MPs, who are receiving furious messages from their constituents.
The prime minister was due to hold a cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss the lifting of the lockdown but plans to ease restrictions, such as partially opening schools from 1 June, have been overshadowed by the affair.
On Monday morning, one Tory MP, David Warburton, told of how his own father died alone as a result of following the rules, and said Cummings’s actions gave the impression of “double standards”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “People have made sacrifices, this is a difficult time, this is a time of national crisis.
“In those sacrifices there really hasn’t been the choice to use instinct. Instinct hasn’t really been part of it. We’ve been tasked with following regulations laid down by the government.”
Other Conservative MPs to speak out included Martin Vickers, the MP for Cleethorpes, who told Sky News Cummings should resign for having “undermined the government’s message”, and Tim Loughton, a former minister, who told the BBC: “Has the action of Dominic Cummings threatened to undermine the message of the government and its ability to carry on its work? I’m afraid regretfully it has and that’s got to be dealt with.”
Cummings has maintained a defiant position throughout, telling reporters outside his home over the weekend: “Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing.” He added: “It’s not about what you guys think.”
The prime minister’s aide faces a possible police investigation under health laws over a claim that he breached self-isolation rules by allegedly visiting Barnard Castle on 12 April.
Durham police have yet to respond to the complaint but the Guardian understands the force is considering whether it needs to take any further action in relation to Cummings.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, was sent out to defend the adviser in the media on Monday morning, despite admitting he had not spoken to Cummings to find out the details of the trip.
He said Johnson had been “categorically assured” that Cummings and family had “followed the guidance and … the law”.
“If you have been given that absolute assurance … it seems fair to support that person,”
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has said in Johnson’s position he would have sacked Cummings and has called for a Cabinet Office inquiry.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, added her voice to the criticism on Monday. Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: “I fear, and I say this with a heavy heart, Boris Johnson is putting his political interest ahead of the public interest.
“And when trust in a public health message and public health advice is as important as it is right now the consequences of that could be serious. I hope that the prime minister will reflect further today and perhaps come to a different conclusion than the one he made yesterday.”
Some scientific advisers and Church of England bishops also expressed anger at Cummings’s actions for undermining the lockdown. Three members of SPI-B, the Sage subcommittee providing advice from behavioural scientists to the government on how the public might respond to lockdown measures, reacted with disdain to Johnson’s defence of his adviser.