The chief advisor to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted he “made the right judgment” in travelling 400km from London to Durham at the height of the lockdown, using a press conference to tell the nation he doesn’t regret his actions.
Dominic Cummings has been the centre of a storm of controversy after two newspapers published stories alleging he had made the journey across England with his wife — who was ill and they suspected it might be coronavirus symptoms — and his son, spending a week at a house on his parents’ farm. He then suffered from suspected COVID-19.
The official UK government advice, which Cummings helped to draft, told those with COVID-19 symptoms, or those sharing a household with someone who has symptoms, to not leave their house. “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” went the government motto.
The lockdown measures at the time also included warning people not to leave the house for any reason other than to exercise once a day, or to buy food or other essentials. Cummings and his family were spotted at Barnard Castle, a town and beauty spot nearly 50km away from Durham, more than 14 days after he claims to have become ill.
Cummings did not apologise for his actions, saying “I don’t regret what I did”. There have been widespread calls for him to resign, or to be sacked by Boris Johnson, who on Sunday defended his top adviser.
Watch in full: Dominic Cummings full statement and media grilling
With millions of people obeying the lockdown rules and making huge sacrifices including missing final moments with loved ones, or their funerals, Cummings has faced accusations of “one rule for him, another rule for everybody else”. There are fears that his actions, and the Prime Minister’s defence of his actions, have undermined the public health messaging at the heart of the government’s efforts to fight coronavirus. The UK has the highest death toll in Europe, according to currently available statistics.
At least 20 ruling Conservative MPs have called for him to leave his post, along with a multitude of opposition politicians and members of the public.
“I believe in all circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally, balancing the safety of my family, and the extreme situation in number 10, and the public interest in effective government, to which I could contribute,” he said in a statement in front of journalists at the garden of the Prime Minister’s house, number 10 Downing Street.
His defence revolved around his worries that there were no childcare options available in London should he and his wife both become incapacitated by COVID-19. He said these were "exceptional circumstances" and it was a "complicated, tricky situation" - there were other family members on the farm in Durham who could care for their four-year-old son should the need arise.
When asked about the view that he should have stayed at his London house, he said: “I respectfully disagree... I thought and I continue to think today the rules, including those regarding small children in extreme circumstances allowed me to exercise my judgment”.
The government guidance did at the time contain this stipulation: "If you have children, keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible".
His justification for the visit to Barnard Castle was that he was testing his eyesight as he felt the illness may have affected his ability to complete the drive back from Durham to London. If this was the case, he tested his eyesight on the 100 km round trip with his wife and child in the car. It also happened to be his wife’s Mary Wakefield’s birthday, and according to an article she wrote in 2012, she can drive.