Boris Johnson has ruled out a public inquiry into an apparent breach of coronavirus lockdown regulations by his top political adviser Dominic Cummings.
Appearing via video link before the Liaison Committee yesterday, the prime minister said he had not asked Sir Mark Sedwill to look into Cummings’s behaviour, after it emerged the special adviser had travelled more than 250 miles with his family while his wife was suffering from Covid-19.
He said it was “reasonable” for MPs to ask whether Sedwill would lead an inquiry into the matter, but said he was not convinced an inquiry would be “a good use of official time”.
When pressed, he said he had seen evidence to support Cummings’s version of events.
But asked whether he believed it would be beneficial to pass that evidence to Sedwill or even to publish it, he said: “I think it would not be doing my job if I were to shuffle this into the hands of officials, who… are, as I think the public would want, working flat out to deal with coronavirus.”
He indicated that Sedwill had not been given the opportunity to question Cummings about what had happened. “I’m not going to go into the discussions that have taken place but I have no reason to depart from what I’ve already said,” he said.
He said there had already been a “huge amount of exegesis and discussion of what happened in the life of [Cummings] between 27 March and 14 April”.
Following press reports this weekend, Cummings confirmed in a press conference on Monday that he had travelled to stay on his parents’ property in Durham to ensure there was childcare available for his son if he became ill.
He also confirmed that after contracting and then recovering from coronavirus, he had taken a further 30-minute journey to the beauty spot Barnard Castle. He told reporters he had wanted to test that his eyesight was good enough to drive back to London.
Durham Police are now looking into the matter and a growing number of MPs have called for Cummings’s resignation. Among them are Cabinet Office minister paymaster general Penny Mordaunt, who said the row over the spad’s conduct had “undermined key public health messages”.
He rejected a challenge that the episode had made it difficult for parents to know what action it was appropriate for them to take if they became ill. England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries has told parents to stay at home and to contact community hubs if they become ill without access to support, but communities secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday that they may travel to areas where they have a support network if they become ill – as Cummings did.
Johnson said there was “not much discrepancy” between the two sets of guidance.
“If you have exceptional difficulties with childcare, you should take account of them,” he said.
Johnson said yesterday that “a lot of what was written and said” about Cummings’s conduct over the weekend was “totally false” – although he did not elaborate on which allegations were untrue.
The prime minister did not apologise for his aide’s conduct, saying instead that he was “deeply sorry for all the hurt and pain and anxiety that people have been going through throughout this period”.
He told the MPs it was time to “move on”.
“It’s been a very frustrating episode and I understand why people have been so concerned, because this country’s going through a horrendously difficult time, but I really think that… what we need to do is focus on getting the message right then… to get onto how we’re going to sort out coronavirus,” he added.