Coronavirus: Dominic Cummings rejects calls to quit as PM’s chief adviser

Dominic Cummings says he “obviously” will not be quitting as the prime minister’s chief adviser over claims he broke coronavirus lockdown rules.

He said he did the “right thing” by travelling 260 miles with his family to be near relatives when his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms.

Downing Street said he wanted to ensure he had childcare if he got symptoms.

Labour and the SNP say he flouted the government’s own advice and are calling for an urgent inquiry into his conduct.

It comes as the government announced 282 more people had died with coronavirus since Friday, across all settings, bringing the total to 36,675.

Mr Cummings told reporters he “behaved reasonably and legally” when asked about the trip from London to Durham.

Asked whether it looked good, he said: “Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.”

He was later asked by reporters whether he would consider his position, he said: “Obviously not.”

“You guys are probably all about as right about that as you were about Brexit: do you remember how right you all were about that,” he added.

PM’s support

Mr Cummings masterminded the 2016 Vote Leave campaign before being made Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief political adviser.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the prime minster – who has not commented so far – had “full confidence” in Mr Cummings, following calls from the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party for him to quit or be fired.

A statement by Downing Street earlier denied that police spoke to Mr Cummings or his family, after the Guardian and the Daily Mirror newspapers first reported the adviser had been seen near his parents’ home in Durham.

The papers quoted police saying they had spoken to a family in Durham on 31 March.

In an updated statement, Durham Police said officers learned of his trip on 31 March and spoke to Mr Cummings’ father the following day.

“During that conversation, Mr Cummings’ father confirmed that his son had travelled with his family from London to the North-East and was self-isolating in part of the property.

“Durham Constabulary deemed that no further action was required. However, the officer did provide advice in relation to security issues,” a statement from the police force said.

Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Steve White said it had been “most unwise” for Mr Cummings to make the journey, “given the whole ethos” of the government’s guidance.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Shapps said Mr Cummings went to Durham because “that’s where the family was”.

“As we all do in moments of crisis, we always seek to have our family, those who can assist us, around us and I think that’s all that has happened in this case.”

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps answers questions on Cummings’ travel to Durham

He said he did not know the “personal circumstances” of the Cummings family that prevented them seeking help closer to home.

Quizzed about how this fitted with the government’s guidance, which is to stay at home, he said: “The important thing is that everyone remains in the same place whilst they are on lockdown.”

He added: “The guidance says if you’re living with children keep following this advice to the best of your ability.

“However, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible depending therefore on circumstances.”

He said it was “for an individual to make the decision” on how best to practice lockdown measures.

‘Questions raised’

The deputy chief medical officer for England, Jenny Harries, said: “All of the guidance has a common sense element to it, which includes safeguarding around adults or children.”

And she added that travelling despite lockdown measures could be justified if there was an “extreme risk to life”.

Durham city centre
Shoppers in Durham city centre take coronavirus precautions

Labour and the SNP have both written to the UK’s most senior civil servant, Sir Mark Sedwill, to call for an urgent inquiry into Mr Cummings’ conduct.

Labour’s Rachel Reeves said: “The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for the prime minister’s most senior adviser.”

Labour has stopped short of calling for Mr Cummings’ resignation – but it says Downing Street’s explanations for his behaviour “raised more questions than they answer” including when the PM was made aware of his aide’s decision to travel from London to Durham during lockdown.

Downing Street earlier put out a statement on Mr Cummings’ actions.

It 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.”

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