- Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent David Wood
Boris Johnson has given his “full support” to Dominic Cummings, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, following allegations the prime minister’s chief adviser broke the coronavirus lockdown rules.
Speaking at the daily government coronavirus update, Mr Shapps defended Mr Cummings’s decision to travel from London to Durham to self-isolate after coming down with Covid-19 symptoms.
Mr Shapps said: “The Prime Minister knew that he (Mr Cummings) was, quite properly, staying in place with his family, which is the right thing to do.”
Reports emerged on Friday that Mr Cummings travelled 260 miles from his London home to Durham.
Mr Cummings told reporters he "behaved reasonably and legally" to travel to Durham to live on a property close to his parents home so his four-year-old child could be looked after if he became severely ill.
Asked by reporters if his trip to Durham during lockdown 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.”
Labour has written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Seawall, demanding an urgent inquiry into Mr Cummings’s trip.
In their letter, they 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.”
Earlier, Number 10 said Mr Cummings behaved "in line with coronavirus guidelines" after a joint investigation by the Mirror and the Guardian reported that police intervened after receiving a tip-off that Mr Cummings had travelled to his family home in County Durham to self-isolate, despite Boris Johnson having declared a lockdown in England days beforehand.
According to the two papers, he was spotted a second time at the property on April 5.
Downing Street denied the police ever questioned Mr Cummings and said the advisor's trip had been “essential” “to ensure his young child could be properly cared for”.
In a statement, Number 10 said the Prime Minister's aide had stayed in a separate house to his family.
- ITV News Correspondent David Wood on Dominic Cummings' defence of his trip from home during lockdown as others call for a clearer answer
But Labour has called on the government to provide clarity at the daily Downing Street Covid-19 press conference on Saturday, saying “Number 10’s statement also raises more questions than it answers."
"We are still unclear who knew about this decision and when, whether this was sanctioned by the Prime Minister and whether Number 10 is now questioning the validity of the statement from Durham Police," a spokesperson for the Labour Party said in response to Number 10’s statement.
“This will cause understandable anger for the millions of people who have sacrificed so much during this crisis.
“The lockdown rules were very clear: if you or anyone in your household was suspected of having Covid-19 you must immediately self-isolate and not leave the house. However, the Prime Minister’s Chief Adviser appears to believe that it is one rule for him and another for the British people."
- Mum Rosie Dutton shares her frustration at the Dominic Cummings allegations
At the daily government coronavirus press conference, Grant Shapps defended Mr Cummings’s move to travel from London to Durham, saying he took a decision to look after his four-year-old child.
He also said Mr Cummings was isolating in a separate property from his parents in Durham and stayed in that property with own family.
Referring to the controversy surrounding the PM’s adviser, Mr Shapps said the steps were taken only to prevent Dominic Cummings’ child being without “the necessary support”.
He added: “Mr Cummings is in the public eye, but the reality of the matter is that a four-year-old child’s welfare was the important thing.
“Parents ask themselves what they would do if they had if they no one else around and eventually you would have to turn to external support or try and be close enough to your family to provide that care, which is what happened in this case here.”
The Transport Secretary was asked if the prime minister knew if Mr Cummings was isolating in Durham.
He told reporters: “The important thing is that everyone remains in the same place whilst they are on lockdown which is exactly what happened in I think the case you’re referring to with Mr Cummings.
“The prime minister will have known he was staying put and he didn’t come out again until he was feeling better.”
Mr Shapps 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 continued: “In other words if you are in a position where you’ve got a young child in this case, four-years-old and you are worried about the welfare of that child and your ability to throw around them the wider network of support then clearly being somewhere where other members of the family can assist, by which I mean in this case younger other members of the family, then that might be the best place for you to settle and stay throughout the time that you’re ill.
“And I think that’s all that’s happened in this case.”
Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, has called for Mr Cummings to quit over the allegations.
“If Dominic Cummings has broken the lockdown guidelines he will have to resign, it is as simple as that,” the former energy secretary tweeted.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP said the aide’s position was “completely untenable”, adding "he must resign or be sacked".
Mr Blackford said the Prime Minister had “serious questions” to answer regarding what he knew about Mr Cummings’ lockdown trip.
Speaking to BBC Radio Four, Mr Blackford branded the alleged actions the “height of irresponsibility for someone to think this is a reasonable course of action”.
“Here we have the highest official in Government, the closest confidant of the Prime Minister prepared to break the rules that the rest of us are being asked to obey," he said.
Former Conservative MP Anna Soubry wrote on Twitter: "All I can think of is all those people who kept to the rules & didn’t say farewell or hold the hand of a dearly loved family member before they died nor attend their funeral. Govt has been consistent - do as we say not as we do. Arrogant & elitist."
But friends of Mr Cummings suggested he would be going nowhere, saying he was "not remotely bothered by the story."
In a statement, No10 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.”
Several senior Tories have defended Mr Cummings' actions. Health secretary Matt Hancock, who was ill with coronavirus in March, said "it was entirely right" for Mr Cummings to seek childcare for his four-year-old son.
“I know how ill coronavirus makes you. It was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find childcare for his toddler, when both he and his wife were getting ill,” he tweeted.
Earlier this month, Mr Hancock said he was left "speechless" after learning of Professor Neil Ferguson’s “extraordinary” actions when the top government scientist was found to have breached social distancing rules despite being a key figure in influencing the lockdown.
The health secretary said Professor Ferguson made the "right decision to resign" after The Telegraph reported the epidemiologist had allowed 38-year-old Antonia Staats to visit him at home in London at least twice during the lockdown.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak also tweeted his support for Mr Cummings.
“Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t," he said.
Dominic Raab also took aim at those he said were "seeking to politicise" saying Mr Cummings' behaviour represented "two parents with Coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child."
He tweeted: “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.”
Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove also spoke out on behalf of Mr Cummings, tweeting: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”
But others his own party are not so supportive and are said to have called for Mr Cummings to quit over the allegations. ITV News political correspondent Paul Brand said a backbencher had told him he had his "fingers crossed" for the prime minister's aide's resignation.
"I think it’s fair to say that Conservative MPs won’t be riding to the rescue,” they told him.
Mr Cummings is alleged to have been present at his family home when police from Durham Constabulary turned up on March 31, following a call from someone reporting they had seen Mr Cummings in the area.
Durham police confirmed officers had spoken to the owners of an address in the city after reports a person had travelled there from London.
The same day as police spoke with members of Mr Cummings’ family, his boss Mr Johnson would be admitted to hospital with coronavirus, where he would later require treatment in intensive care.
Cabinet ministers have previously supported the decision of those involved in the Government’s response to Covid-19 resigning after disobeying the lockdown.
Prof Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose modelling with Imperial College London prompted the lockdown, quit as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), the body advising ministers during the crisis, after it was found he was visited by his married lover.
Mr Cummings, formerly one of the key strategists behind the Vote Leave campaign, wrote about his experience of isolating with his wife, Mary Wakefield, in the Spectator magazine.
He wrote that “at the end of March and for the first two weeks of April I was ill, so we were both shut in together”.
Ms Wakefield, also writing in the Spectator, which she is an editor for, said she became ill with Covid-19 symptoms before her husband did.
“I felt breathless, sometimes achy, but Dom couldn’t get out of bed,” she said.
“Day in, day out for ten days he lay doggo with a high fever and spasms that made the muscles lump and twitch in his legs. He could breathe, but only in a limited, shallow way.”
No 10 has been approached for comment.
Downing Street had regularly refused to confirm where Mr Cummings was self-isolating after news broke that he was ill, possibly with coronavirus.
Mr Cummings has since returned to work at No 10.