After weeks of failing to address multiple trips out of London during lockdown, the PM’s top adviser finally owned up in an unusual and defiant address to the press.
Dominic Cummings addressed the press pack in the Downing Street Rose garden half an hour late at 4.30pm on Monday to insist that at no point did he break social distancing rules. The controversial Number 10 adviser unapologetically defended his trips to Durham from London during the Coronavirus lockdown.
On Sunday Boris Johnson made a rare appearance at a Downing Street briefing and doubled down on his ministers’ defence of his secretive aide. Sources later revealed that government whips had to apologise to furious ministers for forcing them to protect Cummings.
In the face of calls by backbench Tory MPs for his resignation as the controversial aide had destroyed any political capital the government had and risked all public cooperation with the lockdown by flouting rules, Cummings called an impromptu Bank Holiday Monday press conference.
Dominic Cummings sought to defend his decision to drive to County Durham despite the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, saying he believed he behaved “reasonably” and did not regret his actions.
He claimed a 50 – 60 mile round trip to a beauty spot near to where he was meant to be self-isolating was done to test his eyesight for driving back to London – an explanation Boris Johnson later backed as being plausible when he was quizzed about it at the Downing Street briefing.
In a highly unconventional press conference in the rose garden of 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser said he made the journey to Durham from London because of fears over a lack of childcare if he became incapacitated with Covid-19, but also concerns about his family’s safety.
Dominic Cummings refused repeated calls to apologise and insisted he did not break the government’s guidelines.
“At around midnight on 30 of March I spoke to the Prime Minister who had tested positive for Covid,” said Dominic Cummings. He said the next day his wife said she was feeling sick and he told Downing Street colleagues before running out of Number 10 where press photographers had snapped him scarpering away.
Importantly, Cummings said he had not run the move past the Prime Minister. He admitted that “arguably this was a mistake”.
He insisted that there was nobody in London that he “could safely ask to look after our child,” despite his brother-in-law living in London. Dominic Cummings said he had not been tested for Covid when he left London.
His full statement is below.
Dominic Cummings attacks media reporting
Cummings hit out at the media reporting of his opposition to a life-saving early lockdown for making him and his family unsafe in London where he was receiving abuse and threats, he insisted.
Cummings blamed media reports that he had initially advocated delaying the lockdown. Experts now believe the delay meant the UK suffered four times the death toll, propelling UK lives lost per million to the highest in the world. However the repercussions that Cummings mentioned were the personal ones: he complained that such press reports had caused public bile and personal attacks and he insisted he had backed the lockdown.
Cummings said stories suggested he had opposed lockdown and “did not care about many deaths”, but he told reporters: “the truth is that I had argued for lockdown.
“I did not oppose it, but these stories had created a very bad atmosphere around my home, I was subjected to threats of violence, people came to my house shouting threats, there were posts on social media encouraging attacks.” Cummings said he was worried that “this situation would get worse”, and “I was worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home all day and often into the night while I worked in Number 10”.
“I thought the best thing to do in all the circumstances was to drive to an isolated cottage on my father’s farm,” he added.
The defence of his actions comes amid furious calls for him to resign or be sacked by Mr Johnson for travelling to County Durham in March to self-isolate with his family after his wife developed coronavirus symptoms.
Cummings denied further reports which suggested he took a second trip to the North East on April 14.
He conceded that “reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances”, but said: “I don’t regret what I did.”
When asked about the government’s behavioural scientists who have come forward and said his actions had destroyed chances of public cooperation with the lockdown, Cummings again blamed the media.
“I think they’re right to be worried that the coverage over the past couple of days could encourage people to behave in a certain way, but with great respect to them, they made those comments without knowing what actually happened,” claimed Cummings.
He even blamed the press for the public’s anger at his actions. When asked about the public’s reaction, he responded: “I’ve seen some of the media over the last couple of days, and I’m not surprised that a lot of people are very angry. I hope and think that today, when I’ve actually explained all the circumstances about it, I think people realise this is a very complicated, tricky situation.”
Dominic Cummings insisted the newspaper reports about him were “inaccurate.”
His parents live in one house, his sister in another and there was another cottage 15 minutes away where the aide said he thought he could safely isolate his wife and child if he needed to work.
Dominic Cummings also said he drove up to Durham with his wife and son and did not stop on the way, and the next day woke up in pain and “clearly had Covid symptoms”.
Cummings then said that he felt “extremely ill” too and isolated himself with his family. He addressed the walks the family had near the family cottage and the Barnard Castle beauty spot where locals had spotted him. He insisted: “at no point did we break any social distancing rules.”
Dominic Cummings said that by April 11 he was still feeling “weak and exhausted” but had no coronavirus symptoms, so thought he would be able to return to work the following week – possibly part-time.
But he said that because his eyesight had been affected by the disease, his wife did not want to risk the long drive back to London, so they went on a “short drive” to Barnard Castle – around 25 miles away from where he was isolating.
“We did not visit the castle, we did not walk around the town,” he insisted, but said that 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. Yet the Number 10 adviser made no mention of the fact that this was his wife Mary Wakefield’s birthday.
The family returned to London on April 13, and he went back to work the next day, Cummings said. The lockdown rules have always allowed exceptions in certain circumstances, Cummings claimed, and his situation allowed for him to make the journey.
Dominic Cummings refuses to resign
In questions from the assembled press, he also stressed “I did not offer to resign” and refused to. He insisted he was involved in crucial matters around vaccine development and response to the pandemic.
Cummings also refused to admit he had made a mistake.
BBC correspondent Laura Kuenssberg asked if there was “one version of the rules for you and one for everyone else?” But the aide insisted that his were “exceptional circumstances” and he dealt with it with “the least risk to everybody”.
She said many had made big sacrifices and were furious with him. “Lots of people would be very angry” he conceded and he hoped people would view his actions differently now he had explained himself.
“There are definitely things I could have done differently,” he conceded when asked if he would apologise, but, he insisted, he had behaved “reasonably.”
Painful to watch
Asked why his wife’s long feature article about looking after him feverish with the illness never mentioned the fact they had left London, Cummings blamed the obtuseness on avoiding suffering abuse at his London address.
He added: “I think what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances. The rules made clear that if you are dealing with small children that can be exceptional circumstances.
“And I think that the situation that I was in was exceptional circumstances and the way that I dealt with it was the least risk to everybody concerned if my wife and I had both been unable to look after our four-year-old.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the press conference was “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,” she added.
Durham Police confirm police did speak with the Cummings family
Durham Police are examining further information and complaints in connection to Dominic Cummings.
Durham Constabulary made a statement immediately before the conference saying: “We can confirm that on April 1, an officer from Durham Constabulary spoke to the father of Dominic Cummings. Mr Cummings confirmed that his son, his son’s wife and child were present at the property. He told the officer that his son and son’s wife were displaying symptoms of coronavirus and were self-isolating in part of the property.”
The statement added: “We can further confirm that our officer gave no specific advice on coronavirus to any members of the family and that Durham Constabulary deemed that no further action was required in that regard. Our officer did, however, provide the family with advice on security issues.”
This carefully worded statement avoids conflicts with Boris Johnson’s denial of any police discussion with Cummings’ family of the Coronavirus guidelines.
Durham Police investigating new Dominic Cummings allegations
The force said on Monday that they received further information and complaints from the public and they are reviewing and examining the new information.
Cummings travelled to County Durham in March to self-isolate with his family – apparently because he feare he and his wife would be left unable to care for their son – while official guidelines warned against long-distance journeys.
Further reports suggested the Prime Minister’s key aide took a second trip to the north-east in April, having already returned to London following his recovery from Covid-19.
A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said: “We can confirm that, over the last few days, Durham Constabulary has received further information and complaints from members of the public and we are reviewing and examining that information.”
It follows the region’s acting police and crime commissioner saying he had written to its chief constable asking her to “establish the facts concerning any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter”.
Steve White said there was a “plethora” of additional information which deserved “appropriate examination”.
He added: “I am confident that thus far, Durham Police has responded proportionately and appropriately to the issues raised concerning Mr Cummings and his visit to the county at the end of March.
“It is clear however that there is a plethora of additional information circulating in the public domain which deserves appropriate examination.
“I have today written to the chief constable, asking her to establish the facts concerning any potential breach of the law or regulations in this matter at any juncture.
“It will be for the chief constable to determine the operational response to this request and I am confident that with the resources at its disposal, the force can show proportionality and fairness in what has become a major issue of public interest and trust.”
Boris Johnson insists Cummings acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has thrown his support behind his aide and said he acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”.
But another police and crime commissioner said Mr Cummings’s actions have made a “mockery” of police enforcement of lockdown measures.
An NHS doctor who works in a Covid-19 ward has pledged to resign by the end of the week if Cummings does not, and warned that others may follow suit.
Dominic Cummings has made a “mockery” of lockdown say experts
Senior Government aide Dominic Cummings made a “mockery” of healthcare planning by travelling to Durham with his family during lockdown, experts have said after his attempt to justify his actions.
Professor Jackie Cassell, deputy dean of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said the rules were very clear that people should not leave major cities to go to second homes in rural areas.
This is because hospitals in less densely populated areas could become overwhelmed if people bring infections from other parts of the country, she added.
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow at the University of Southampton, said Mr Cummings had made a “mockery” of local healthcare planning.
Gloucestershire’s independent police and crime commissioner Martin Surl told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Cummings’s actions will make it much more difficult to enforce lockdown restrictions.
He added: “I think it makes it much harder for the police going forward – this will be quoted back at them time and time again when they try to enforce the new rules.
“But I think more importantly it makes something of a mockery of the police action going back when the message was very, very clear: stay at home.
“The police had to deliver a very harsh, very difficult message and now it appears people could act differently, so I think it does undermine the policing going back and their confidence, and going forward it will be more difficult, but they will cope, they always do.”
Durham’s former chief constable Mike Barton said the people who make the rules cannot break them or there will be “chaos”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Barton said: “Policing the lockdown has probably been one of the toughest assignments ever given to the British police and they have risen to the challenge.
“But what the Prime Minister did yesterday has now made it exponentially tougher for all those people on the front line, those PCSOs (police community support officers) and cops on the front line enforcing the lockdown.
“We are in the middle of a national emergency and people who make the rules cannot break the rules, otherwise we are going to have chaos.”
Asked if officers should go through “hours and hours” of CCTV footage to find out if the trips were made, he said it was a matter for the force but added: “If I thought that the entire edifice of Durham Constabulary was at risk I would make sure we got to the truth.
“If you’re going to expend hundreds of hours and that’s going to put other people at risk then you wouldn’t do it.
“We have got here really selfish acts that are undermining the efforts of the British public and British police to make us all safe, and if an inquiry by Durham Constabulary would assist us with that then I would commend it.”
Dominic Cummings’ Downing Street statement in full
Sorry I’m late.
Good afternoon, thank you for coming. Yesterday I gave a full account to the Prime Minister of my actions between the 27th of March and the 14th of April, what I thought and did.
He has asked me to repeat that account directly to you. I know that millions of people in this country are angry, thousands have died, many are angry about what they have seen in the media about my actions. I want to clear up the confusions and misunderstandings that I can.
In retrospect I should have made the statement earlier. It’s many years since I have said anything on television, but I’ll do my best to answer questions after I’ve explained what happened.
I also should clarify that I’m not here to speak on behalf of the Government or the Prime Minister, I’m explaining my own actions and my own thinking. The Prime Minister is giving a press conference later and he will answer questions on Government policy.
Around midnight on Thursday the 26th of March I spoke to the Prime Minister. He told me that he tested positive for Covid. We discussed the national emergency, arrangements for Number 10 given his isolation and what I would do in Number 10 the next day. The next morning I went to work as usual. I was in a succession of meetings about this emergency.
I suddenly got a call from my wife who was at home looking after our four-year-old child. She told me she suddenly felt badly ill, she vomited and felt like she might pass out, and there would be nobody to look after our child. None of our usual childcare options were available. They were alone in the house.
After very briefly telling some officials in Number 10 what happened, I immediately left the building, ran to my car and drove home. This was reported by the media at the time, who saw me run out of Number 10.
After a couple of hours my wife felt a bit better, there were many critical things at work, and she urged me to return in the afternoon and I did.
That evening I returned home and discussed the situation with my wife. She was ill, she might have Covid though she did not have a cough or a fever.
At this point most of those who I work with most closely – including the Prime Minister himself, and others who sit within 15 feet of me every day – either had had symptoms and had returned to work, or were absent with symptoms.
I thought there was a distinct probability that I had already caught the disease. I had a few conflicting thoughts in my mind: First, I was worried if my wife and I were both seriously ill, possibly hospitalised, there was nobody in London that we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to Covid. My wife had felt on the edge of not being able to look after him safely a few hours earlier.
I was thinking: What if the same or worse happens to me? There is nobody I can reasonably ask to help. The regulations make clear, I believe, that risks to the health of a small child were an exceptional situation and I had a way of dealing with this that minimised risk to others.
Second, I thought that if I did not develop symptoms then I might be able to return to work to help deal with the crisis. There were ongoing discussions about testing Government staff in order to keep people like me working rather than isolating.
At this point, on the Friday, advisers such as myself had not been included in a list of who were tested. But it was possible this might be changed the following week. Therefore I thought that after testing negative I could continue working. In fact this did not change and special advisers were not tested, and I have never been tested.
Third, there had been numerous false stories in the media about my actions and statements regarding Covid, in particular there were stories suggesting I had opposed lockdown and even that I didn’t care about many deaths.
For years I have warned of the dangers of pandemics. Last year I wrote about the possible threat of coronaviruses and the urgent need for planning.
The truth is I argued for lockdown, I did not oppose it. But these stories have created a very bad atmosphere around my home. I was subject to threats of violence, people came to my house shouting threats, there were posts on social media encouraging attacks, there were many media reports on TV showing pictures of my house. I was also worried that given the severity of this emergency, this situation would get worse and I was worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home all day and often into the night while I worked in Number 10.
I thought the best thing to do in the circumstances was drive to an isolated cottage on my father’s farm. At this farm my parents live in one house, my sister and her two children live in another, and there is a separate cottage roughly 50 metres away from either of them.
My tentative conclusion on the Friday evening was this: If we were both unable to look after our child, then my sister or nieces can look after him. My nieces are 17 and 20. They are old enough to look after him but also young enough to be in the safest category, and they had extremely kindly offered to do so if needed.
But I thought if I do not develop symptoms and with a testing regime in place at work, I could return to work if I tested negative. In that situation I could leave my wife and child behind in a safe place – safe in the form of support from family for shopping and emergencies, safe in the sense of being away from our home should we become a target, and also safe for everybody else because they were completely isolated on a farm and could not infect anybody.
Contrary to some media reports, there are no neighbours in the normal sense of the word. The nearest other homes are roughly half a mile away. So in this scenario I thought they could stay there for a few weeks, I could go back to work, help colleagues, and everybody including the general public would be safe.
I did not ask the Prime Minister about this decision – he was ill himself and he had huge problems to deal with. Every day I have to exercise my judgment about things like this and decide what to discuss with him. I thought I would speak to him when the situation clarified over the coming days, including whether I had symptoms and whether there were tests available.
Arguably this was a mistake and I understand some will say I should have spoken to the Prime Minister before deciding what to do.
So I drove the three of us up to Durham that night, arriving roughly at midnight. I did not stop on the way. When I woke the next morning, Saturday the 28th of March, I was in pain and clearly had Covid symptoms, including a bad headache and a serious fever. Clearly I could not return to work any time soon.
For a day or two we were both ill, I was in bed, my wife was ill but not ill enough that she needed emergency help. I got worse, she got better. During the night of Thursday the 2nd of April, 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 must 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.
In the morning my wife called to say that he had recovered, seemed back to normal, doctors had tested him for Covid and said they should return home.
There were no taxis. I drove to the hospital, picked him up, then returned home. I did not leave the car or have any contact with anybody at any point on this short trip. The hospital’s – I don’t know what, roughly five miles or something away, two miles, three miles, four miles, something like that.
A few days later the hospital said he tested negative. After I started to recover, one day in the second week I tried to walk outside the house. At one point the three of us walked into woods owned by my father, next to the cottage we were staying in. Some people saw us in the woods from a distance but we had no interaction with them. We had not left the property, we were on private land.
By Saturday the 11th of April, I was still feeling weak and exhausted, but other than that I had no Covid symptoms. I thought I would be able to return to work the following week, possibly part time. 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 like I ought to return to work if possible, given I was now recovering, in order to relieve the intense strain at Number 10.
On the Saturday I sought expert medical advice, I explained our family’s symptoms and all the timings and asked if it was safe to return to work on Monday, Tuesday, seek childcare and so on. I was told that it was safe and I could return to work and seek childcare.
On Sunday the 12th of April, 15 days after I first displayed symptoms, I decided to return to work. My wife was very worried particularly because 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. We parked by a river. My wife and I discussed the situation, we agreed that I could drive safely, we should turn around and go home.
I felt a bit sick. We walked about 10-15 metres from the car to the riverbank nearby. We sat there for about 15 minutes. We had no interactions with anybody. I felt better, we returned to the car.
An elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognise me. My wife wished him happy Easter from a distance but we had no interaction with him.
We headed home. On the way home our child needed the toilet – he was in the back seat of the car. We pulled over to the side of the road, my wife and child jumped out into the woods by the side of the road. They were briefly outside, I briefly joined them. They played for a little bit and then I got out of the car, went outside, we were briefly in the woods.
We saw some people at a distance but at no point did we break any social distancing rules. We then got back in the car, and went home. We agreed that if I continued to improve then the next day we should return to London and I would go back to work.
We returned to London on the evening of Monday the 13th of April, Easter Monday. I went back to work in Number 10 the next morning.
At no point between arriving and leaving Durham did any of the three of us enter my parents’ house, or my sister’s house. Our only exchanges were shouted conversations at a distance. My sister shopped for us and left everything outside.
In the last few days there have been many reports that I returned to Durham on April 13. All these stories are false. There is a particular report that I returned there on the 19th of April. Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false, and local CCTV, if it exists, will also prove that I am telling the truth, that I was in London that day, I was not in Durham. During this two-week period, my mother’s brother died with Covid.
There are media reports that this had some influence on my behaviour. These reports are false. This private matter did not affect my movements. None of us saw him, none of us attended his funeral. In this very complex situation I tried to exercise my judgment the best I could.
I believe that in all circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally, balancing the safety of my family and the extreme situation in Number 10, and the public interest in effective government to which I could contribute. I was involved in decisions affecting millions of people, and I thought I should try to help as much as I could do.
I can understand that some people will argue that I should have stayed at my home in London throughout. I understand these views. I know the intense hardship and sacrifice the entire country has had to go through. However, I respectfully disagree. The legal rules inevitably do not cover all circumstances, including those that I found myself in.
I thought, and I think today, the rules including those regarding small children in extreme circumstances allowed me to exercise my judgment about the situation I found myself in, including the way that my London home had become a target, and all the complexity of the situation.
I accept of course there is room for reasonable disagreement about this. I also understand that some people think I should not have driven at all, anywhere. But I had taken expert medical advice, it was 15 days after symptoms, I had been told I could return to work and employ childcare.
I think it was reasonable and sensible to take a small journey before embarking on a five-hour drive to see whether I was in a fit state to do this. The alternative was to stay in Durham rather than going back to work and contribute to the Government’s efforts. I believe I made the right judgment but I can understand that others may disagree with that.
I have explained all of the above to the Prime Minister. At some point during the first week when we were both sick and in bed, I mentioned to him what I had done.
Unsurprisingly given the condition we were in, neither of us remember the conversation in any detail.
I did not make my movements public at the time, because my London home was already a target, I did not believe I was obliged to make my parents’ home and my sister’s home a target for harassment as well.
I understand that millions of people have seen media coverage of this issue. I know that millions of people have endured awful hardship including personal tragedies over the past few months and people are suffering every day.
I know the British people hate the idea of unfairness. I wanted to explain what I thought, what I did, and why over this period, because I think people like me who help to make the rules should be accountable for their actions.