Conservative MPs have ramped up pressure on Boris Johnson to dispense with his top aide Dominic Cummings. The pressure comes amid fresh allegations that Cummings broke lockdown rules more than once.
The prime minister has been urged to sack Cummings after reports surfaced that he made a second trip to County Durham, where his family lives, despite stringent social restrictions.
Tory MPs, including prominent 1922 Committee member Steve Baker, said Cummings “must go”. But transport secretary Grant Shapps said reports of a second trip were “not true”. The PM pledged his “full support” on Saturday 23 May to his under-fire chief adviser, who it emerged had travelled 260 miles to the North East in March while official guidelines warned against long-distance journeys.
Reports of further trips
According to the Sunday Times, Johnson told allies he wouldn’t throw Cummings “to the dogs” following reports Cummings made the journey to ensure his child could be looked after as he and his wife were ill.
But according to reports in the Observer and Sunday Mirror, the former Vote Leave campaign co-ordinator made a second trip to Durham. He was seen there on 19 April – five days after being photographed on his return to Westminster.
A second eyewitness told the two papers they saw Cummings a week earlier in Barnard Castle on Easter Sunday, a popular tourist location 30 miles away from Durham. This was during the period he was believed to be self-isolating.
Pressure from Conservative MPs
Downing Street has said it would “not waste time” replying to the fresh allegations from “campaigning newspapers”. But Baker told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme:
If he doesn’t resign, we’ll just keep burning through Boris’s political capital at a rate we can ill afford in the midst of this crisis.
It is very clear that Dominic travelled when everybody else understood Dominic’s slogans to mean ‘stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’.
It is intolerable that Boris’ government is losing so much political capital. Three changes are immediately required:
1 – Govt needs competitive expert advice
2 – Govt must insist on high software engineering standards
3 – Dominic Cummings must gohttps://t.co/zUOCVcDAmN
— Steve Baker MP (@SteveBakerHW) May 24, 2020
Damian Collins, Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said:
Dominic Cummings has a track record of believing that the rules don’t apply to him and treating the scrutiny that should come to anyone in a position of authority with contempt.
The Government would be better without him.
Shapps was sent out to defend Cummings at the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing on 23 May. He then faced questioning on 24 May regarding Cummings’ actions, but admitted he’d not spoken to him beforehand. Shapps told Sophy Ridge:
I’m afraid I don’t know (about Barnard Castle) but if that date was true that would have been outside the 14-day period. But I’m afraid I don’t have the information on that.
But I do know it is not the case that he has travelled backwards and forwards, which seemed to be a major part of the stories I saw in the paper today.
On 23 May, deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said everyone should self-isolate unless there was a risk to life.
Pressure from opposition
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has written to the head of the civil service calling for an “urgent investigation” into Cummings’ movements during the lockdown. In the letter to Sir Mark Sedwill, the party said that Downing Street’s explanation for Cummings’ journey from London to County Durham “raised more questions than they answer”.
Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, wrote:
The British people have made important and painful sacrifices to support the national effort, including being away from family in times of need.
It is therefore vital that the Government can reassure the public that its most senior figures have been adhering to the same rules as everyone else.
The letter alleged that press reports suggested Cummings may have breached legal restrictions on movement, the government’s guidance on self-isolation, and official NHS advice.
Labour’s intervention follows SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford calling on Sir Mark to investigate the “rule-breaking and the Tory Government’s cover-up” of Cummings’ lockdown journey to Durham. Blackford has also called for Mr Cummings to resign, stating his position as “completely untenable”.
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