Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings has said he did not speak to the British Prime Minister before driving to County Durham as he answered allegations that he breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
After Mr Cummings arrived half an hour late for the press conference, the British PM's special adviser read from a statement, saying he gave a full account to the prime minister for his actions, but says Boris Johnson asked him to do it.
He said: “I did not ask the Prime Minister about this decision. He was ill himself and he had huge problems to deal with. Every day I have to exercise my judgement about things like this and decide what to discuss with him.
“I thought that I would speak to him when the situation clarified over the coming days, including whether I had symptoms and whether there were tests available.
Arguably this was a mistake and I understand that some will say that I should have spoken to the Prime Minister before deciding what to do.
“I know that millions of people in this country have been suffering, thousands have died, many are angry about what they have seen in the media about my actions,” he began.
“I want to clear up the confusions and misunderstandings where I can.
"In retrospect, I should have made this statement earlier."
Cummings explained the chronology of events beginning on March 26 and how a day later he was at 10 Downing Street when his wife told him she had symptoms.
He said he returned home, being filmed "running to the car" after a phone call from his wife.
"She told me she suddenly felt badly ill and she had vomitted and felt like she might pass out," he says.
After a couple of hours, his wife felt better and he returned to work.
But on returning home, he "discussed the situation with my wife" and concluded, due to the PM and numerous people in No 10 contradicting the coronavirus, there was a "distinct probability I had already caught the disease".
He said his decision to drive to County Durham was based not only on fears over a lack of childcare if he became incapacitated with Covid-19 but also concerns about his family’s safety.
Mr Cummings said: “My tentative conclusion on the Friday evening was this: if we were both unable to look after our child then my sister or nieces can look after him.”
But, I thought, if I do not develop symptoms and there’s a testing regime in place at work I could return to work if I tested negative.
"In that situation I could leave my wife and child behind in a safe place – safe in the form of support from family for shopping and emergencies, safe in the sense of being away from our home which had become a target and also safe for everybody else because they were completely isolated on a farm and could not infect anybody.”
He said the nearest other homes are “roughly half a mile away”.
At an extraordinary press conference in Downing Street’s rose garden, Mr Cummings said stories suggested he had opposed lockdown and “did not care about many deaths”.
“The truth is that I had argued for lockdown, I did not oppose it but these stories had created a very bad atmosphere around my home, I was subjected to threats of violence, people came to my house shouting threats, there were posts on social media encouraging attacks.”
Mr Cummings said he was worried that “this situation would get worse” and “I was worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home all day and often into the night while I worked in Number 10.”
“I thought the best thing to do in all the circumstances was to drive to an isolated cottage on my father’s farm.”
It follows calls for him to be sacked over allegations he breached coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the UK.
The British Prime Minister’s aide travelled to County Durham in March to self-isolate with his family – apparently because he feared that he and his wife would be left unable to care for their son – while official guidelines warned against long-distance journeys.
Mr Cummings had faced sustained pressure since news broke of his alleged breach from across the political spectrum in the UK to quit his Government role.
Further reports also suggested he took a second trip to the North East of England in April, having already returned to London following his recovery from Covid-19 – a disease which has seen more than 45,000 people in the UK die after contracting it.
Several Conservative backbenchers have joined calls from opposition parties for Mr Cummings to quit or be sacked, amid warnings that his actions have “undermined” efforts to fight coronavirus.
It comes as Durham’s acting police and crime commissioner, Steve White, said there was a “plethora” of additional information which deserved “appropriate examination”.
He said he has written to Durham police’s chief constable asking her to “establish the facts concerning any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter”.
Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister chaired a Cabinet meeting where ministers are expected to discuss the easing of restrictions for certain sectors of the economy, including the reopening of some non-essential shops.
It follows confirmation that the phased reopening of England’s primary schools will commence on June 1.
It is a classic case of 'do as I say, not as I do' - and it is not as if he was unfamiliar with guidance he himself helped draw up.— Paul Maynard MP (@PaulMaynardUK) May 24, 2020
It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable. 2/2
Mr Cummings’ actions have sparked fury among some MPs, and led to warnings that he has “undermined” efforts to fight coronavirus.
Earlier today, Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the British Government’s advisory group on behavioural science, told ITV’s
Good Morning Britain: “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 told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it makes it much harder for the police going forward – this will be quoted back at them time and time again when they try to enforce the new rules.
“But I think more importantly it makes something of a mockery of the police action going back when the message was very, very clear: stay at home.”
Mr Johnson said he could “not mark down” Mr Cummings for the way he acted, and told the Downing Street press conference on Sunday that, following “extensive” talks with his aide, he concluded “he followed the instincts of every father and every parent”.
He said Mr Cummings had “acted responsibly, legally and with integrity”.
But Tory former minister Paul Maynard said: “It is a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ – and it is not as if he was unfamiliar with guidance he himself helped draw up.
“It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable.”
Senior Conservative MP Simon Hoare, who had earlier called for Mr Cummings to go, later criticised Mr Johnson’s press conference, telling the Daily Mail: “The PM’s performance posed more questions than it answered.
“Any residual hope that this might die away in the next 24 hours is lost.”
Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton said he was “unconvinced” by the PM’s defence of Mr Cummings, while Tory grandee Lord Heseltine said it was “very difficult to believe there isn’t a substance” in the allegations about Mr Cumming’s movements.
The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs? The moral question is not for Cummings - it is for PM and ministers/MPs who find this behaviour acceptable. What are we to teach our children? (I ask as a responsible father.)— Nick Baines (@nickbaines) May 24, 2020
The PM also came in for stinging criticism from bishops, who accused him of treating people “as mugs” and with “no respect” after he opted to stick by his chief aide.
The Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, tweeted: “The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs?”
Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it was his “understanding” from the Prime Minister that Mr Cummings and his family did not break the law in their trip to Durham during lockdown.