UK PM Johnson backs Cummings despite calls to quit over coronavirus lockdown travel

WION Web Team London, London, UK (Great Britain) May 24, 2020, 10.24 PM(IST)

Dominic Cummings Photograph:( AFP )

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Dominic Cummings, Johnson's Chief Strategy Advisor, on Saturday defended a journey to his parents' home in Durham, north-east England, as reasonable and legal, and the UK prime minister has so far stuck by him with Downing Street reiterating the same line.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed his senior advisor Dominic Cummings, despite calls from within his own Conservative Party for the aide to quit over travelling 250 miles defying the coronavirus lockdown.

Cummings had masterminded the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union, and is a close aide of Johnson's.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson's Chief Strategy Advisor, on Saturday defended a journey to his parents' home in Durham, north-east England, as reasonable and legal, and the UK prime minister has so far stuck by him with Downing Street reiterating the same line.

Cummings came under pressure when the Daily Mirror and Guardian newspapers reported he had travelled 400 km (250 miles) to Durham in northern England with his wife -- when Britain was under a strict lockdown to combat the coronavirus outbreak. His wife had COVID-19 symptoms.

"I've had extensive face-to-face conversations with Dominic Cummings," Johnson told a news conference.

"And I conclude that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus, and when he had no alternative - I think he followed the instincts of every father, and every parent. And I do not mark him down for that."

"I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally," he added.

Johnson's office had earlier said Cummings made the journey to ensure his 4-year-old son could be properly cared for by relatives if he too fell ill.

Also read | Pressure mounts on Britain PM aide to quit amid more lockdown breach claims

The 'Observer' and 'Sunday Mirror' have reported that Cummings was seen in the north east of England on two more occasions, after recovering from his COVID-19 symptoms.

On Sunday, newspapers report that witnesses saw Cummings in Barnard Castle, more than 25 miles from Durham, on April 12.

Two days later, on April 14, he was seen in London. According to a witness, he was spotted again in Houghall Woods near Durham on April 19.

Downing Street, however, branded the reports as inaccurate.

A number of cabinet ministers and the attorney general have said that the journey was justified -- with dissent majorly seen in Opposition parties.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have written to Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK Cabinet Secretary, calling for an urgent inquiry into the allegations.

To make matters worse for him, there are examples of other prominent British figures who have resigned after breaking lockdown rules. 

Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson quit as a member of the government's scientific advisory group after he was visited at home by his girlfriend. Scotland's chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, stepped down after she was caught making two trips to her second home.

(with inputs from Reuters)