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The prime minister has defended Dominic Cumming’s lockdown-breaking trip to see his parents 260 miles away in Durham as “essential” amid mounting calls for him to be sacked.
Police have confirmed they attended a property in County Durham, prompting political leaders to pile pressure on the PM to sack the 48-year-old strategist for flouting the rules announced by his own boss.
A Downing Street spokesperson has denied that police had spoken to Cummings or his family.
In a statement, the 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.”
As Boris Johnson faces intense pressure to sack his top aide, ministers have come to Cummings’ defence.
On Saturday morning Michael Gove, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, shared the statement, adding: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”
Caring for your wife and child is not a crime https://t.co/YCXWhKTq28
— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) May 23, 2020
At the time of Cummings’ trip to his parents’ home in Durham, the PM’s message to the nation was “a very simple instruction – you must stay at home”.
The rules, announced in a speech that Johnson made to the nation on March 23, stated that people would only be allowed to leave the house for limited purposes.
These were shopping for basics, one form of exercise a day, travelling to and from work, but only where absolutely necessary, and medical needs.
Reinforcing the message, Mr Johnson said people should not meet family members who do not live with them.
The rule on meeting family was unequivocal.
It stated: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.
“You should keep in touch with them using phone or video calls.”
In the wake of the news, and Downing Street’s subsequent statement, the government has been accused by leaders of co-ordinating a “cover up”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford said: “What I find interesting is that (according to reports) members of Downing Street knew about this so, first and foremost, Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer over what now appears to be a cover-up.
“The Prime Minister must explain exactly when he knew about the breaking of the rules, whether he sanctioned it, why Cummings wasn’t sacked immediately and why it appears that he tried to cover it up, not telling the public until the newspaper(s) broke the story, eight weeks later, last night.”
He branded the alleged actions the “height of irresponsibility”, and added: “Demonstrably, this is an individual who has broken the advice he has been, in many cases, the architect of delivering.”
Meanwhile, the Labour Party said the “country deserves answers” at the daily Downing Street press conference on Saturday.