Sunday 24 May 2020 5:06 pm

Boris Johnson backs Dominic Cummings over lockdown travel row

Boris Johnson will not sack chief adviser Dominic Cummings for allegedly leaving London twice to travel to Durham during coronavirus lockdown.

Speaking at today’s press briefing, the Prime Minister said Cummings acted “legally and reasonably” when he drove to Durham during the lockdown and that “his objective was to stop the spread of the virus”.

Read more: Boris Johnson will lead daily press conference amidst Dominic Cummings saga

He said: “It’s because I take this matter so seriously that I can tell you today I’ve had extensive face to face conversations with Dominic Cummings and I’ve concluded that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare at the moment he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus, and with 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 and with integrity.”

A joint investigation by the Mirror and the Guardian revealed on Friday that the Cummings, his wife and young son had travelled in late March to Durham to stay at the aide’s parents’ house.

He and his wife both had coronavirus and self-isolated for 14 days while in Durham.

Number 10 said he acted within the rules as the pair travelled to ensure their son had childcare.

However, it emerged last night in a joint report from the Sunday Mirror and Observer that Cummings was spotted on two other occasions in Durham in April, including once after he’d already been spotted in London on 14 April.

One person said they saw Cummings in a Durham woodland on 19 April, meaning that he would have travelled from London to Durham twice during lockdown.

Johnson today said that the second story was “palpably untrue”, while a Downing Street statement last night also labelled the claims Cummings went to Durham twice as untrue.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff in the last few days about this episode of self-isolation by Mr Cummings that does not seem to correspond remotely with reality and as far as I can see he stuck to the rules and acted legally and responsibly,” Johnson said.

A group of Tory backbenchers called for Cummings’ resignation since the news of the second and third sightings.

Tory MP and former Brexit minister Steve Baker told Sky News this morning that the former Vote Leave mastermind had to go.

“If he doesn’t resign, we’ll just keep burning through Boris’ political capital at a rate we can ill afford in the midst of this crisis,” he said.

“It’s very clear that Dominic travelled when everybody else understood Dominic’s slogans to mean stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Cummings saga was “a test for the Prime Minister and he has failed it”.

“It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings,” he said.

“The public will be forgiven for thinking there is one rule for the Prime Minister’s closest adviser and another for the British people.

Read more: Tory MPs call for Dominic Cummings to resign

“The Prime Minister’s actions have undermined confidence in his own public health message at this crucial time.

“Millions were watching for answers and they got nothing. That’s why the Cabinet Secretary must now launch an urgent inquiry.”