The country has been in uproar since Friday evening over revelations that Downing Street senior aide Dominic Cummings and his wife drove 260 miles to his parents’ home in Durham while the country was in lockdown.
After much discussion in Downing Street today, Boris Johnson has concluded that Mr Cummings, as a father to a young son, acted in the best interests of his child and would be staying on in his role.
Whether this announcement will draw a line under the issue remains to be seen. This is everything we know so far about the scandal which has threatened to split the Tory party.
March 23: Prime Minister Boris Johnson orders a strict UK lockdown urging the British public to ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’.
March 24: England’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harris, is asked what her advice would be if parents with children become sick:
“Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance.
“…if the individuals do not have access to care support, formal care support or access to family, they will be able to work through their local authority hubs.”
March 27: Mr Johnson and Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announce that they have tested positive for the coronavirus. Mr Cummings is seen leaving No 10 Downing Street shortly after the announcement.
March 28/29: Downing St confirms that Mr Cummings had started displaying coronavirus symptoms “over the weekend” of March 28-29.
March 30: Downing St confirms that Mr Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield are self-isolating in their London home after developing symptoms of the virus. Although the exact date is unclear, it has emerged that around this time Mr Cummings and Ms Wakefield, together with their young son, drove to an address in Durham, 260 miles from London.
March 31: Police made contact with the owners of the address after the Durham Constabulary were “made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city”.
The force said 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.”
The force added: “Durham Constabulary deemed that no further action was required. However, the officer did provide advice in relation to security issues.”
Downing St subsequently commented on Mr Cummings’ actions saying that: “At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.”
Durham Police reiterated on Saturday night that, on the morning after March 31, an officer had spoken to Mr Cummings’ father at his own request, who said his son had travelled to the North East and was “self-isolating in part of the property”.
The Telegraph disclosed that there was a second discussion between officers and Mr Cummings senior, earlier this month after a further allegation was made that his son was in the region.
April 12: According to reports, which have been denied by Downing Street, Mr Cummings was again spotted in County Durham again, but it is understood Durham Police were not made aware of the allegations at the time.
Cummings back on duty
April 14: Mr Cummings returns to his duties with the Government after recovering from his illness.
The Sunday Mirror and Observer newspapers have since alleged Mr Cummings made a return journey to the North East, an accusation he and Cabinet ministers have strenuously denied.
Did Cummings break any rules?
At the time of his escape to the country, the Government’s Stay at Home message was clear. Only leave the house:
For essential shopping – namely food and/or medicine
To travel for work purposes
To exercise once a day – alone or with members of your household
Attend to a medical requirement
Has Mr Cummings and his wife commented?
Since the story broke on Friday night, Mr Cummings has made no official statement but spoke to reporters outside his London home saying that he had “behaved reasonably and legally”.
Asked about the ‘optics’ of the situation, Mr Cummings replied: “Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.”
Later he said the media were wrong to suggest the public would be upset by his actions, likening it to the issue of Brexit during the 2016 referendum that he helped to win.
Ms Wakefield – who is a commissioning editor at the Spectator – documented the pair’s isolation in an article for the magazine.
“I felt breathless, sometimes achy”. “[Dominic had] collapsed… and couldn’t get out of bed.”
“Day in, day out for 10 days he lay doggo with a high fever and spasms that made the muscles lump and twitch in his legs,” she wrote. “He could breathe, but only in a limited, shallow way.”
Ms Wakefield was also interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on April 25 but did not mention that the family had left their London home to travel north.
What are the current lockdown rules?
How has the Government responded?
No 10 did not react after the story had been reported by the Daily Mirror and the Guardian on Friday night. A statement was released on Saturday, however:
“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.”
During the Government’s daily conference on Saturday, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said that Mr Cummings had been “staying put [in Durham]”, and “didn’t come out again until he was feeling better”.
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said in a tweet the parents had travelled there because they were “anxiously taking care of their young child”.
It’s reasonable and fair to ask for an explanation on this. And it has been provided: two parents with Coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child. Those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror. https://t.co/fvfvPmlccQ
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) May 23, 2020
Michael Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office, also took to social media to say: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”
What have the critics said?
Political leaders have called on Mr Johnson to sack the 48-year-old strategist for flouting rules he had drawn up.
The most outspoken reaction so far has come from ardent Brexiteer and prominent 1922 committee member Steve Baker. Speaking on the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, the Tory MP argued that it was time for Mr Cummings to go.
“If he doesn’t resign, we’ll just keep burning through Boris’s political capital at a rate we can ill afford in the midst of this crisis,” he said.
“It is very clear that Dominic travelled when everybody else understood Dominic’s slogans to mean ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives’.
“And I think mums and dads who very much care about their children and who have been forgoing the childcare of their extended family will wonder why he has been allowed to do this.
“I really just don’t see, as we approach the Prime Minister (appearing) at the liaison committee on Wednesday, how this is going to go away unless Dominic goes.”
“Dominic’s tactics are out of place and he should go – he has ended up not abiding by the spirit of the slogans he enforced on the country.”
Fellow backbencher Damian Collins insisted that the Government “would be better” without Mr Cummings. He said:
Dominic Cummings has a track record of believing that the rules don’t apply to him and treating the scrutiny that should come to anyone in a position of authority with contempt. The government would be better without him.
— Damian Collins (@DamianCollins) May 24, 2020
Meanwhile, North Dorset MP Simon Hoare agreed that it was time for Mr Cummings to “consider his position” as he was “wounding” the Prime Minister.
With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the Government’s reputation he must consider his position. Lockdown has had its challenges for everyone. It’s his cavalier “I don’t care; I’m cleverer than you” tone that infuriates people. He is now wounding the PM/Govt & I don’t like that
— Simon Hoare MP (@Simon4NDorset) May 24, 2020
David Lidington, the former Conservative MP, said it raised serious questions.
He told BBC Newsnight: “There are clearly serious questions that No 10 are going to have to address, not least because the readiness of members of the public to follow government guidance more generally is going to be affected by this sort of story.”
A Labour spokesman said: “It cannot be one rule for those who set them and another for the British people.”
The unanswered questions
Mr Cummings insists he acted legally and responsibly and that his trip was to ensure the safety of his four-year-old son.
“Any father would have done what he did,” Mr Johnson emphasised. Yet several questions still need to be fully answered…