Opposition leaders 'will meet to discuss public health messaging' as MPs call for Dominic Cummings to go

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  • May 25, 2020
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Opposition leaders are to meet on Tuesday morning to discuss public health messaging amid the ongoing row over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham, it is understood.

Scientists, members of the British public and MPs across the political spectrum have called for Boris Johnson‘s top aide to resign.

The backlash intensified after Mr Cummings made a public statement at Downing Street on Monday, where he tried to explain his trip to the North East in March despite the coronavirus lockdown.

The 48-year-old said he travelled to Durham to self-isolate with his family, because his four-year-old son fell ill and he feared that he and his wife would be left unable to care for him.

Dominic Cummings returns home after his “car crash” press conference (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Cummings told reporters that he had not offered to resign nor had he considered it as well as refusing to apologise for his actions. He said: “I do not regret what I did” but added that “reasonable people may well disagree”.

Both Cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister have continued to rally around the special adviser, saying he acted “reasonably, legally and with integrity”.

However, Labour have continued to lead calls for Mr Cummings to be removed from his post, with a party spokesman saying: “The British people were looking for at least an apology from Dominic Cummings for breaking the lockdown. They got none

“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.”

Several opposition MPs then posted identical tweets, rehashing the spokesman’s closing sentence.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted during Mr Cummings’ statement: “This is actually painful to watch. He clearly broke the rules, the Prime Minister has failed to act in the National interest. He should have never allowed this situation with a member of his staff.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP said Boris Johnson had “no option” but to sack Dominic Cummings, and his failure to do “is a gross failure of leadership”.

Responding to the press conference, Mr Blackford said: “What should have been a resignation statement turned out to be a botched PR exercise that changes nothing. It is now beyond doubt Dominic Cummings broke multiple lockdown rules.

“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. He has done nothing but double down on the double standards he has displayed and which millions of people across the UK are furious about.”

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas said: “Cummings believes he did the right thing but accepts others may disagree. The right thing to do now is accept that most of us do disagree, and that his behaviour undermines the Government’s public health message. He should resign.”

And acting Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey tweeted: “Cummings’ statement confirms he broke the guidelines When millions kept to those rules The PM must now terminate his contract – if he wants to regain any credibility in leading the country on dealing with the Coronavirus crisis.”

Also calling for his departure was Northern Ireland’s SDLP leader Colum Eastwood who said: “It is right that those who hold positions of responsibility in public life are held to a high standard for their behaviour.

“Given the unprecedented opportunity for an adviser to address the public, it appears that Dominic Cummings failed to meet the very basic standards required of people during this public health crisis,” the Foyle MP said. ​

Boris Johnson ‘regrets’ pain caused by Dominic Cummings saga

Scientists also joined the stinging criticism of Mr Cummings and the Government, with a neuro radiographer with almost 30 years of NHS experience expressing outrage over his refusal to apologise.

Gareth Wright, who works at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, and is also a Labour Party activist said: “No apology, no acceptance that he may have been at fault!”

“The messages this sends out to people is that it is OK to do pretty much whatever you like. I suppose we will only find out the affect (sic) in three weeks when we see more people dying.”

Prof Jackie Cassell, the deputy dean of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, also condemned his actions, saying: “London has lots of ITU (intensive treatment unit) and hospital beds as a major population centre. Its residents should not be decamping to places where they might need – and in this case did need – to use another region’s hospitals and health care facilities.

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“This is an important reason why Cummings should have stayed put, and he like all senior government advisers will have been well aware of this.”

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said: “The statement from Cummings really only reinforced his clear disregard for public health guidance, with regards these movement of hundreds of miles by Covid-infected individuals.

“There are also issues of taking up emergency healthcare resource in an area of the country where you are not resident – this makes a mockery of healthcare planning where ideal number of intensive care beds are based on population numbers in the local area.

Meanwhile, Cabinet ministers including Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Robert Jenrick, and Rishi Sunak all tweeted messages of support towards Mr Cummings with many urging people to return their focus to tackling Covid-19.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Dom Cummings was right today to set out in full detail how he made his decisions in very difficult circumstances. Now we must move on, fight this dreadful disease and get our country back on her feet.”

But shadow Health Minister Jon Ashworth hit back at Mr Hancock saying: “He completely undermined your public health messaging and rules. If everyone had behaved like that this lockdown would have collapsed. And I hope you’re not endorsing going for a 30 mile drive if you’re worried about your eyesight.”

Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, wrote: “It’s clear now that allegations were made which were untrue and Dominic Cummings acted legally and reasonably.

“Let’s concentrate on the work necessary to deal with the consequences of Covid-19.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak tweeted: “Dominic Cummings has made clear he was motivated by trying to protect his son and he took steps to be safe.

“I understand people had serious questions about his actions – indeed many of you have made huge sacrifices – but I do believe today he explained himself.”

During Monday’s Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said that he could not give anyone “unconditional backing” when asked if he was prepared to revisit his decision to support Dominic Cummings.

But he stressed that he did not believe that his any of his staff in Downing Street had done anything to undermine the lockdown messaging.

He said: “I cannot give unconditional backing to anybody, but I do not believe anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our messaging.”