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by Matt Honeycombe-Foster
26 May 2020
Boris Johnson bats away questions about Dominic Cummings lockdown row

Boris Johnson - Image credit: Andrew Parsons/DPA/PA Images

Boris Johnson bats away questions about Dominic Cummings lockdown row

Boris Johnson has insisted his backing for his top adviser Dominic Cummings is not “unconditional” amid an ongoing row over a trip to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Prime Minister said the public would have to “make up their own minds” on Cummings’ actions after the senior Number 10 aide delivered an emotional statement defending his decision to take his wife and child from London to Durham.

But the Prime Minister rejected suggestions that Cummings had undermined the UK Government’s own messaging on the lockdown. 

The Number 10 adviser on Monday defended the 250-mile trip, saying he had acted “legally and reasonably" in his first on-the-record account of the controversial visit.

Cummings said he understood the “intense hardship and sacrifice” the country had been through during the crisis but said he and his ill wife had been left without anyone in London “we could reasonably ask to look after” their young son.

The adviser also revealed he had not asked the Prime Minister for permission ahead of making the visit, saying Johnson himself “had a million things on his plate” as he battled his own coronavirus diagnosis.

Repeatedly refusing to be drawn further on the details at the daily Number 10 press conference, Johnson said of the row: “People will have to make up their own minds.”

He added: “What I will say is it’s vital, absolutely vital that people can continue to observe the Government’s public message and continue to observe the guidelines.”

Asked whether his backing for Cummings, which comes in spite of a growing backlash from Tory MPs, was unconditional, Johnson said: “Of course, I can’t give any unconditional backing to anybody.

“But I do not believe that anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our messaging. 

“What we want to make absolutely clear to the public is that the only way to solve this problem is if we stay alert, follow the guidelines, control the virus and save lives.”

The Prime Minister said he regretted the “confusion and the anger and the pain that people feel” in the wake of the row over Cummings’ behaviour.

But he insisted Cummings had produced “quite a substantial chunk of autobiography” on the matter, adding: “I really feel that it would be wrong of me to try to comment further on what he said. 

“I think people will have to make their minds up. I think he spoke at great length. 

“To me he came across as somebody who cared very much about his family and who was doing the best for his family.”

The Prime Minister’s comments came as Labour dismissed the latest statement from Cummings, with a spokesperson saying: “The British people were looking for at least an apology from Dominic Cummings for breaking the lockdown. They got none.”

The opposition party added: “Millions of people have made extraordinary sacrifices during the lockdown.

“Families have been forced apart, sometimes in the most tragic of circumstances. They stayed at home to protect the NHS and save lives.

“And yet, the message from this Government is clear: it’s one rule for Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, another for everybody else.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Cummings had given only “a botched PR exercise that changes nothing”.

“There was no apology and no contrition from Mr Cummings for his behaviour – and now, following this unrepentant press conference, there are no excuses left for him,” Blackford said.

And Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “Countless people have lost loved ones and made enormous, heartbreaking sacrifices every single day since lockdown began.

“Dominic Cummings has shown that these sacrifices by millions of people don’t matter to him.

“His refusal to have the decency to apologise is an insult to us all. It reveals the worst of his elitist arrogance.”

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