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'He must go': Calls for PM to sack his top aide after he broke lockdown

Sky News logo Sky News 22/05/2020 Tom Rayner, political correspondent and Sunita Patel-Carstairs, news reporter
a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Opposition parties say Dominic Cummings must resign or be sacked by Boris Johnson © Getty Opposition parties say Dominic Cummings must resign or be sacked by Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is facing calls to sack his top aide after it emerged he was investigated by police over an apparent breach of lockdown rules.

Dominic Cummings travelled with his wife and son to Durham, which is more than 260 miles from his London home, to stay with his elderly parents after developing coronavirus symptoms.

Durham Police confirmed they spoke to the owners of a property on 31 March - a week after the prime minister imposed the lockdown - after a call from someone reporting they had seen Mr Cummings in the area.

Opposition parties have demanded a "swift explanation" from Downing Street, and said Mr Cummings's position is "untenable".

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Number 10 issued the following statement: "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."

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, told Sky News: "He must go. He should either resign or the prime minister should sack him.

"When millions of people have sacrificed so much... it looks quite outrageous that the prime minister's top adviser should breach the rules. The prime minister has got to make his position clear. I can't see that this is anything other than a breach of the guidelines."

a man wearing a suit and tie: Mr Cummings walks along Downing Street at the end of April © Getty Mr Cummings walks along Downing Street at the end of April He also questioned why Mr Cummings would choose to self-isolate with his elderly parents, who are in the "vulnerable category".

"I don't think there can be one rule for everyone else and a different rule for the prime minister's top team," said Mr Davey.

"I can't see how Dominic Cummings is going to wriggle out of this one."

According to a joint investigation by The Guardian and the Daily Mirror, Mr Cummings escaped the capital at the same time as the PM was instructing people to stay at home and not travel to their second homes - with fines in place for those flouting the rules.

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A Number 10 spokesperson had confirmed on 30 March that Mr Cummings was self-isolating after suffering COVID-19 symptoms.

The newspapers suggest a local resident saw Mr Cummings at the doorstep of his parents' home with a child, believed to be his son, on 5 April.

A Labour spokesperson said: "We are still waiting for a clear explanation from Number 10 about Dominic Cummings's actions.

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"The public have made extraordinary sacrifices during this pandemic and the lockdown. It cannot be one rule for those who set them and another for the British people.

"There is a press conference this afternoon: the country deserves answers."

'They will fight very hard to keep him'

Sky's deputy political editor Sam Coates said: "Dominic Cummings is an essential person in this government in the view of many people in Downing Street.

"They will fight very hard to keep him. As of now, there is no official response to these stories.

"However, there are some suggestions on social media and anonymously that Dominic Cummings was travelling to Durham because he and his wife were ill and they needed some support for their child - something they believe was permitted under the rules and guidelines set down by government."

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He added: "There is going to be an almighty fight in the days to come over Dominic Cummings's future but don't expect Boris Johnson to lose him in a hurry."

Sources close to Mr Cummings have said he did not break the rules because he and his wife needed his parents to look after their son while they were ill.

They cited comments made by deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries, who suggested in "exceptional circumstances" parents too unwell to look after a child could rely on family support, among other options.

But Dr Harries made her remarks almost two weeks after Mr Cummings travelled north.

The Scottish National Party's (SNP) Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Cummings's position was "completely untenable", adding: "He must resign or be sacked."

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In a series of tweets, Mr Blackford said: "This is a key test of leadership for Boris Johnson. People must have confidence that the Tory government is following its own rules - not being investigated by the police for breaking them.

"Millions of people will find it completely incredible that Boris Johnson's most senior adviser has been breaking his own government's rules when the rest of us have all made huge sacrifices to obey them.

"There was absolutely nothing in the list of reasons under the law for leaving the house that allowed someone to travel the length of the country to stay with their parents, particularly not someone who was known to have the virus."

Breaches of lockdown restrictions have recently led to some high-profile resignations.

Scotland's chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood quit her post after it emerged she had twice visited a second home in Fife.

Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the government's most high-profile scientific advisers, resigned from the SAGE committee after it emerged a woman from outside his household had visited his home on two occasions.

Downing Street is yet to respond to the reports related to Mr Cummings.

A Durham Constabulary spokesman said: "On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.

"Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.

"In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel."

A timeline of Dominic Cummings during lockdown:

18 March: At his Downing Street briefing the PM said: "Children should not be left with older grandparents, or older relatives, who may be particularly vulnerable or fall into some of the vulnerable groups."

22 March: Government advice is that people must remain in their primary residence and not travel to their second homes: "Leaving your home - the place you live - to stay at another home is not allowed."

23 March: Strict lockdown rules are imposed which mean people can only leave their houses for essential travel.

27 March: Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus. Mr Cummings is seen running along Downing Street.

Weekend of 28 and 29 March: Over this weekend, Mr Cummings developed coronavirus symptoms, Downing Street later confirmed.

31 March: Mr Cummings travelled to his family's farm in Durham - and it was on this date that Mr Cummings' family were spoken to by police.

10 April: Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said being too ill to look after a small child was an "exceptional circumstance" and she pointed to accessing family support, among other options.

14 April: Mr Cummings is pictured in Downing Street after recovering from coronavirus.

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Stay at home as much as possible to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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