Matt Hancock today insisted Dominic Cummings did not break lockdown rules by travelling 260 miles to Durham as the Prime Minister faced calls from an estimated 24 Tory MPs to axe his top aide amid claims some may be ‘settling scores’.
Mr Hancock told the daily Downing Street press conference that it is his view that Mr Cummings had acted ‘within the guidelines’ but he could ‘understand why reasonable people can take a different view’.
The Health Secretary added: ‘But my judgement, which is the same as the Prime Minister’s judgement, is that what Mr Cummings did was within the guidelines.’
His comments came after the Government was hit this morning by the resignation of Douglas Ross as junior Scotland minister over the row as he said Mr Cummings’ press conference yesterday had left many ‘unanswered questions’.
Mr Ross, a qualified football referee who was previously best known for missing a Commons vote to run the line in a Champions League game, said in his resignation letter he could not in ‘good faith’ tell his constituents ‘they were all wrong’ to observe lockdown ‘and one senior adviser to the government was right’.
Downing Street is this evening facing anger from various sections of the Conservative Party over its handling of the row with many more Tory MPs on top of the 24 who have made clear Mr Cummings should go also expressing disquiet. They include MPs who won seats in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ during the 2019 general election.
However, some senior figures in the party believe there could be an element of ‘settling of scores’ being at play, with many Tory MPs known to have frosty relationships with Mr Cummings because of differences of opinion over Brexit.
One senior Tory told MailOnline that there is ‘undoubtedly a variety of motives… varying from settling of scores to inexperience’ as they said all Conservative MPs ‘owe a duty to the PM to support him’.
Meanwhile, a former minister said Tory critics needed to realise that the PM had made a final decision and had effectively ‘lashed himself to the mast’.
More than 20 MPs signalled yesterday before Mr Cummings’ press conference that they believed he needed to quit. Many have now confirmed their stance remains unchanged while a number of their colleagues have also broken ranks.
Mark Pawsey said ‘Mr Cummings has acted against the spirit of the lockdown and the Prime Minister should now ask for his resignation’ while former chief whip Mark Harper said the aide ‘should have offered to resign, and the Prime Minister should have accepted his resignation’.
Simon Jupp said that if he was Mr Cummings he ‘would have since considered my position’ and Tory select committee chairman William Wragg said ministers were ‘degrading’ themselves by defending the aide.
A Number 10 spokesman said Mr Johnson thanked Mr Ross, 37, for his ‘service to government and regrets his decision to stand down’ while Labour said the MP had ‘done the decent thing’ by quitting.
It came as the leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green Party and Alliance Party wrote to Mr Johnson to tell him that trust in public health advice could only be restored if Mr Cummings is removed ‘without further delay’.
Michael Gove had earlier defended the PM’s top aide as a ‘man of honour and integrity’ and said ‘people will make their own mind up’ about the trip to Durham after Mr Cummings yesterday refused to apologise.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office said Mr Cummings had delivered an ‘exhaustive, detailed and verifiable’ account of why he had isolated with his family in a cottage on his parents’ land.
Douglas Ross, pictured with Boris Johnson during the general election campaign in November 2019, today resigned as junior Scotland minister over the Dominic Cummings lockdown row
MP Douglas Ross, MP for Moray, pictured today after he resigned from his post following the Dominic Cummings fiasco. This is him walking his Dog Murphy near his home address in Alves, Moray, Scotland
Dominic Cummings, pictured leaving his London home this morning, yesterday said he had no regrets about his 260 mile drive to Durham during lockdown
Tory MPs who have called for Dominic Cummings to be sacked
The number of Tory MPs who have now called for Mr Cummings to be sacked stands at approximately 24.
They are believed to be:
Douglas Ross – Scotland minister who has quit
Harriett Baldwin – former Treasury minister
Sir Roger Gale – Tory veteran, MP since 1983
Martin Vickers – Eurosceptic MP for Cleethorpes
Peter Bone – leading Brexit campaigner in 2016
Craig Whittaker – former Tory whip
Robert Goodwill – former environment minister
Paul Maynard – ex-transport minister
Mark Pawsey – MP for Rugby for 10 years
Sir Robert Syms – MP for Poole since 1997
Tim Loughton – former children’s minister
Jason McCartney – former RAF officer
Peter Aldous – MP for Waveney since 2010
John Stevenson – solicitor and MP for Carlisle
Caroline Nokes – ex-immigration minister
Damian Collins – chair of DCMS select committee
Philip Davies – outspoken backbench MP
Julian Sturdy – farmer and MP for York Outer
Alec Shelbrooke – backed Jeremy Hunt for leadership
Mark Harper – former chief whip
Stephen Hammond – arch Remainer MP for Wimbledon
Simon Hoare – Only an MP since 2015
Andrew Percy – ex-Northern Powerhouse minister
David Warburton – MP for Froome since 2015
The continuing row over Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham came as:
- Britain today announced 134 more victims of the coronavirus, taking the country’s total death toll to 37,048.
- The Department of Health announced that coronavirus patients in the UK can now be treated with remdesivir, an Ebola drug which has shown promise in battling the infection.
- Some 71 per cent of people polled by YouGov believe Mr Cummings broke strict coronavirus rules by driving from London to Durham in March, including 56 per cent of Tory voters and 63 per cent of his fellow Brexiteers.
- Brewery bosses have urged the Government to relax the two-metre social distancing rule so that pubs can reopen.
- Mr Johnson performed his daily exercise in the grounds of Buckingham Palace this morning, marking an extraordinary privilege for a serving British premier.
- The PM’s approval rating has plummeted in the wake of the Durham row from 19 per cent on Friday to -1 per cent now.
- Small outdoor gatherings, including barbecues and garden parties, which have been banned since the start of lockdown, could be the next measures to be eased, according to reports.
- Office for National Statistics data for England and Wales showed the overall death toll for coronavirus between May 9 and May 15 was 2,639 – a drop of 1,235 from the week before.
- Mr Hancock said all penalty fines which may have been issued to families caught travelling for childcare reasons during lockdown could be reviewed after a vicar demanded answers at the daily Number 10 press conference.
Number 10 would have been hoping that Mr Cummings’ extraordinary press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden would dampen Tory and public fury.
But Mr Ross quitting will pile fresh pressure on Mr Johnson over his decision to stand by Mr Cummings as some Tory MPs believe the row could become a new ‘poll tax moment’ for the Conservative Party which could damage it for years to come.
Mr Cummings is also facing questions after he said he had driven to Barnard Castle, 30 miles away from Durham, after isolation to check his eyesight – a move the former Greater Manchester Police chief constable Sir Peter Fahy said ‘appears to be against the Highway Code’.
Boris Johnson’s approval rating plummets in the wake of Dominic Cummings lockdown row
Boris Johnson’s approval rating has plummeted in the wake of the Dominic Cummings lockdown row, a new poll revealed today.
The Prime Minister had a net approval rating of 19 per cent on Friday before the news of his chief aide’s 260-mile journey to Durham.
But a poll by Sevanta ComRes today has Mr Johnson on -1 per cent after he and senior ministers leapt to Mr Cummings’ defence and refused to sack him.
The Prime Minister now has an approval rating of below that of opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, and the ratings of other senior ministers including Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock have similarly tumbled.
And the row appears to have taken its toll on the Government as a whole, with a Friday approval rating of 20 per cent falling to 4 per cent yesterday.
The figures suggest that Government attempts to dismiss the furore as a Westminster Bubble obsession of no interest to the public may be wide of the mark.
Matt Hancock announces Government could review penalty fines imposed on families travelling for childcare reasons
Matt Hancock today suggested the Government could review all penalty fines issued to families caught travelling for childcare reasons during lockdown in the the wake of the Dominic Cummings row.
The Health Secretary was confronted on the issue at the daily Downing Street press conference.
Mr Cummings had justified his 260 mile trip to Durham on the grounds that he was concerned that if he and his wife became ill no one would be able to look after his son.
Martin, a vicar from Brighton, asked Mr Hancock at the press conference: ‘Will the government review all penalty fines imposed on families travelling for childcare purposes during lockdown?’
Mr Hancock replied: ‘That is a very good question and we do understand the impact and the need for making sure that children get adequate childcare.
‘That is one of the significant concerns that we have had all the way through this.
‘So I think especially coming from a man of the cloth I think that is perfectly reasonable to take away that question.’
Mr Gove also defended Mr Cummings on this issue as he told LBC that he too had ‘on occasions in the past’ driven with his wife to check his own eyesight.
It also emerged today that Mr Johnson did not tell a meeting of the Cabinet yesterday afternoon that Mr Cummings was going to host his own press conference as ministers were told by Attorney General Suella Braverman that ‘no laws have been broken’ by Mr Cummings.
Mr Johnson last night told the daily Downing Street press conference that his backing for Mr Cummings was not unconditional, saying: ‘I can’t give unconditional backing to anybody but I don’t believe anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our message.’
The Prime Minister has expended a huge amount of political capital to protect his top adviser at a time when many Tory MPs had called for him to be sacked.
Following his statement yesterday afternoon, numerous Cabinet ministers expressed their support for Mr Cummings.
This morning Mr Gove, who was Mr Cummings’ boss when he was a special adviser at the Department for Education, stepped in to defend his ally.
Mr Gove told BBC Breakfast: ‘I know that he is a man of honour and integrity and as people will have had the chance to hear yesterday they will know from his own account that he was acting in a way which sought to safeguard his family, sought to limit, indeed reduce the risk of infection to anyone else, which took account of a range of circumstances.
‘People will make their own mind up and as Dominic himself said there will be many people who will think that his actions were wrong or mistaken.
‘But looking at it in the round I think that his actions were reasonable.’
Mr Gove said he believed people are ‘sensible and reasonable’ and would recognise that Mr Cummings ‘didn’t break the law, he didn’t break the rules’.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office said: ‘I think Dominic completely understands the sense of concern people felt as the story broke.
‘I think the account he gave yesterday was exhaustive, it was detailed, it was verifiable. I think people will make their own mind up as they listened to Dominic’s account.
‘I think most people will understand he was under pressure, and sought to put the health of his wife and son first, and took care to ensure they as a family unit were not in danger of infecting other people.’
When asked about Mr Cummings’ test drive to Barnard Castle, Mr Gove claimed it was a ‘completely appropriate’ journey because he was ‘preparing to return to work’.
Asked how that trip could be classed as essential travel, Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The key thing is that Dominic is a key worker and being in a position to be able to return to work is a sensible thing.’
Asked if the journey was within the lockdown guidance, Mr Gove said: ‘Yes, I believe so.’
But Sir Peter, the ex-chief of Greater Manchester Police, questioned the validity and wisdom of the trip.
He said: ‘Clearly, number one, that’s ill-advised as a means of testing your eyesight as to whether you’re fit to drive, but again it’s hard to see – unless there’s some justification that that was to take daily exercise – how that was justified.’
Matt Hancock announced the Government could review all penalty fines issued to families caught travelling ‘for childcare reasons’ during the lockdown after Dominic Cummings row after vicar demanded answers in daily press conference
Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street today, said last night that his support for his top aide was not ‘unconditional’
Ex-Champions League linesman who saw something was offside about Cummings’ trip north
Douglas Ross was previously less well known as a member of Boris Johnson’s government than he was as a football referee.
After being elected as the MP for the Scottish seat of Moray in 2017 the married father-of-one, 37, kept his £40,000-a-year footballing job on the side.
The following October he ran the line in a Champions League match as the Spanish giants Barcelona took on Greek side Olympiacos and their enormous Camp Nou stadium.
The dual-role was not without controversy as he has occasionally missed votes in Westminster – and before that as an MSP in Holyrood – to officiate in matches.
His Barcelona appearance saw him miss a vote on welfare payments, which Theresa May humiliatingly lost.
Mr Ross ousted the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson to win the Moray seat and the Tories insisted his constituents supported his refereeing work.
But he scaled back his football commitments from 2017 after they attracted more attention, deciding not to officiate while Parliament was sitting.
He was born and raised in his constituency in the north east of Scotland and served it as a councillor and as an MSP before heading to Westminster.
He married Krystle in 2015 and they celebrated the birth of their son last year.
Asked if it was a criminal offence, Sir Peter replied: ‘It certainly appears to be against the Highway Code, it’s not the way to test your eyesight, and put potentially other people in danger.’
Sir Peter also said it was likely that Mr Cummings would have been told to return to London if police had stopped him on his trip to Durham.
He said: ‘I think at that point in terms of what was the understanding of the regulations and the Government messaging I think it may well be that absolutely he’d have been turned back, as many other people were turned back from things that they were doing.’
Sir Peter’s comments came after NHS bosses expressed concerns the row could ‘damage’ confidence in the Government’s coronavirus lockdown guidance.
NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson told the BBC: ‘Because of the way this story has unfolded there is certainly concern among our members, health leaders, that it could damage staff and public confidence in official guidance.
‘You can’t say too often that the guidance has actually saved thousands of lives, and I think if we look forward over the next few weeks, following guidance is going to be as vital as ever and actually it’s going to be more complex because as lockdown eases the advice is, frankly, less binary and people have to exercise more discretion.
‘So I think there is concern that this has been a distraction and that it’s not been helpful, and the fear is that it has made people on the front line frustrated and fearful.’
Mr Dickson later clarified he expected staff would follow the guidance but the incident could ;undermine more generally staff confidence in Government pronouncements’.
Senior Tories believe some critics of Dominic Cummings may be ‘settling scores’
Senior Tory figures believe some of Dominic Cummings’ critics could be ‘settling scores’ with the PM’s aide as they demand that he resign.
Some 24 Tory MPs have now said the Vote Leave maverick must be removed over his lockdown trip to Durham.
Criticism of Mr Cummings from within the party has come from a number of different sections.
One senior Tory told MailOnline that the criticism of Mr Cummings ‘varies from settling of scores to inexperience’.
Meanwhile, a former minister said Tory critics needed to recognise that Mr Johnson had effectively ‘lashed himself to the mast’ and would not be changing his mind.
Mr Cummings’ failure to show any contrition during yesterday’s press conference sparked fresh anger from some Tory MPs and ministers who had earlier called for him to be sacked.
One senior minister told The Times: ‘My jaw continues to drop. He’s saying he’s so much more important than us plebs.
‘I think we’re in big trouble, we can’t campaign our way out of this. We’re losing trust and confidence, it’s draining away before our eyes. The fact he didn’t apologise speaks volumes.’
Some Tory MPs now fear the row could do lasting damage to the Conservative Party in the same way that the poll tax at the start of the 1990s and Black Wednesday in 1992 did.
‘This could be an ERM moment, where the public turn against us,’ one MP told The Telegraph, referring to when a collapse in the pound forced the Tory government to withdraw sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).
The MP said the Conservative Party’s response in 1992 was ‘awful’ and ‘it looked really callous’ prompting the public to ‘turn against us for the next four years’.
They said the row over Mr Cummings ‘feels like that’. Another MP said the row and the aftermath ‘feels more like poll tax’.
Many Conservative MPs are now waiting to hear what Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, says before going pubic with their own conclusions.
One added: ‘The volume of emails has been truly extraordinary. We are all waiting for the opinion polls now.’
I CAN NO LONGER SERVE AS A MEMBER OF THIS GOVERNMENT: DOUGLAS ROSS’S STATEMENT
‘I have just tendered my resignation from the UK Government and my position as Under Secretary of State for Scotland.
‘Following my re-election as MP for Moray last December, I was honoured to be asked by the Prime Minister to join his Government and take on this role in the Scotland Office.
‘It is a position I have relished and one I’ve committed to wholeheartedly since my appointment.
‘There was much I still hoped to do in this role but events over the last few days mean I can no longer serve as a member of this Government.
‘I have never met Dominic Cummings so my judgment on this matter has always been open and I accept his statement on Monday afternoon clarified the actions he took in what he felt were the best interests of his family. However, these were decisions many others felt were not available to them.
‘As a father myself, my instinct is to always do what is best for my son and wife. We have been fortunate not to have caught this awful virus but, if we did, we are prepared to follow the government advice and stay at home to contain this virus.
‘While the intentions may have been well-meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’ interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the Government asked.
‘I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the Government.
‘I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the Government was right.
‘This is not a decision I have reached quickly. I have waited to hear all of the information and thought long and hard over this.
‘I realise both the immediate and long-term implications of my decision to resign from Government.
‘While it has been a great privilege to serve as a minister, my first duty is to be a representative and I feel I can best represent my Moray constituents and many across the country who have expressed their feelings about this by resigning as a minister.
‘I look forward to continuing to stand up for the people of Moray from the back benches.’
Yesterday’s extraordinary press conference saw Mr Cummings refuse to apologise for driving 260 miles to Durham during the lockdown as he claimed he had behaved ‘reasonably and legally’.
Mr Cummings said his decision to travel to the city to stay in a cottage on his parents’ land was the result of a ‘very complicated, tricky situation’ as he admitted he had not sought Mr Johnson’s permission to make the journey at the end of March.
The Vote Leave maverick has faced accusations of ‘double standards’, with the nation having been instructed to stay at home, but he said: ‘I don’t regret what I did… I think what I did was reasonable in the circumstances.’
Asked directly if he had offered to quit or had even considered it, he added: ‘No I have not offered to resign, no I have not considered it.’
Mr Cummings told the press conference:
- He travelled to Durham in the dead of night on March 27 after his wife became ill because there was ‘nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to Covid’. He became ill himself the following day and was bedbound for days.
- He added: ‘Clearly I could not return to work anytime soon. For a day or two we were both ill, I was in bed, my wife was ill but not ill enough to require emergency help.’ He said he had not asked the Prime Minister about his decision and admitted that ‘arguably this was a mistake’.
- He did not take any medical advice before driving to Durham. When asked if he was confident he was not putting people at risk, he said: ‘I knew that I had a full tank of petrol, I could drive to a place that was completely isolated from everybody else. I knew that if me and my wife could not look after our small child there was a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old 50 metres away. If I had stayed in London and a similar thing had happened then I would have had to get somebody else there and expose them to danger or invite them into the house which would also have exposed them to danger. The way that I did it seemed to be the safest way to do it in the circumstances.’
- Mr Cummings said that on April 2 his son fell unwell and was taken to hospital but he was still too ill to go with him. He said: ‘During the night of Thursday April 2 my child woke up, he threw up and had a bad fever. He was very distressed. We took medical advice which was to call 999, an ambulance was sent, they assessed my child and said he should go to hospital. I could barely stand up, my wife went with him in the ambulance, I stayed at home, he stayed the night in hospital.’
- He said that in the morning his wife called to say their son had recovered and could return home. Mr Cummings said that he drove to the hospital to pick up his wife and son but did not leave the car or come into contact with anyone on the way. He said as he was recovering he went for a walk in the woods next to the cottage they were staying at which was private land and while they saw some people they had no interaction with anyone.
- By April 11 he was still feeling ‘weak and exhausted’ but had no Covid symptoms so thought he would be able to return to work the following week – possibly part-time. He added: ‘It was obvious that the situation was extremely serious, the Prime Minister had been gravely ill, colleagues were dealing with huge problems and many were ill or isolating. I felt that I should be able to return to work if possible given I was now recovering in order to relieve the intense strain at Number 10.’
- He admitted taking a drive to Barnard Castle on April 12 – where he was spotted by a local retired teacher – to test his eye sight before a 260 drive back to London. Mr Cummings said he had felt a ‘bit sick’ so they had walked about 10 to 15 metres to the riverbank where they sat for about 15 minutes until he felt better.
- He defended his decision, saying: ‘My wife was very worried, particularly as my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease. She did not want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child given how ill I had been. We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely, we drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town. We did not visit the castle, we did not walk around the town.’
- He denied reports that he and his family made a second trip north later in April after returning to London on April 13. He added: ‘In the last few days there have been many media reports I returned to Durham after April 13. All these stories are false. There’s a particular report I returned there on April 19. Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false, I was in London on that day.’
- Asked if he had offered to quit he said: ‘No I have not offered to resign, no I have not considered it.’ He added: ‘I don’t think I’m so different and I don’t think there is one rule for me and one rule for other people … I believe I have behaved reasonably and legally’.