Artillery Row

You’ll need to have your eyes tested

Dominic Cummings’s long and winding road to Barnard Castle

Dominic Cummings regrets many things. He regrets not making today’s statement to the media days earlier. He regrets not speaking to the Prime Minister about his decision to travel to Durham, and he regrets turning up to the garden in Downing Street where he was due to speak to the media half an hour late.

But he does not regret his decision to travel 260 miles to Durham for childcare.

At 4:01 – the time the press conference had been due to start – Durham Police issued a statement suggesting that they had spoken to the father of the Downing Street Spad, but offered “no specific advice” on lockdown measures – despite an earlier statement saying that they had. The police added that they had spoken to Mr Cummings’s family on “security matters.”

Today Cummings gave the media a blow-by-blow account of his whereabouts. He left London in case both him and his wife were unable to look after their small child and they stayed in a house on his family’s Durham farm. He said in the end he hadn’t come into contact with any family members, his sister dropped off shopping and they communicated by shouting at a distance. The advisor said his decision to leave the capital was also influenced by the fact that his London house had become a target, and he hadn’t wanted to leave his wife and child in the house whilst he worked long shifts in No.10.

After feeling better and itching to return back to work, his wife Mary suggested he drive to  let’s say, half an hour away – Barnard Castle in an attempt to test whether his eyesight was up to the long drive back home. When asked why he and his wife didn’t mention in their respective Spectator articles that he had been in Durham, he said he hadn’t wanted to make his family’s Durham farm a target in the same way his London house had become. When asked by a reporter if it would have made more sense to drive some of the way to London instead, he didn’t have an answer.

No.10 will be hoping this press conference will draw a line under the whole episode in a way that Boris Johnson’s press conference resolutely did not. The Prime Minister provoked outrage yesterday when he said that “he followed the instincts every father and every parent and I do not mark him down for that”.

At today’s conference Mr. Cummings revealed he hasn’t offered to resign, and hasn’t even considered it. But before this development, several Tory MPs had called for his resignation:

  1. Former ERG chairman Steve Baker set the ball rolling yesterday morning in an article for The Critic demonstrating that this was not simple a skirmish of the Brexit wars.
  2. William Wragg retweeted Steve Baker’s initial tweet calling for him to go.
  3. Simon Hoare, the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee has said he should “consider his position”.
  4. Sir Roger Gale has said his position “is no longer tenable”.
  5. Damian Collins said that “the government would be better without [Dominic Cummings]”.
  6. Brexiteer Peter Bone told ITV News: “when advisers become the story, they go”.  Former minister Caroline Nokes stated on Twitter that “there cannot be one rule for most of us and wriggle room for others”.
  7. Craig Whittaker said he agreed with his colleagues that Mr Cummings’ position was “untenable”. York Outer MP and Brexiteer said  “the PM needs to publicly address the situation without delay”.
  8. Paul Maynard accused him of a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude.
  9. Jason McCartney said: “I believe Mr Cummings’ position is now untenable.”
  10. In nearly 800 words in Facebook, Brexiteer Tim Loughton concluded: “the position of Dominic Cummings is untenable as the chief adviser to the Government and he must resign or be removed”.
  11. On Twitter Sir Robert Syms said “Whatever the merits of a Govt Advisor they should never be the story or it detracts from central message which is to get us out of this crisis. The advisor should go.”
  12. According to Sky’s Joe Pike Wiltshire MP James Gray told constituents: “Having him continuing at the heart of Government undermines our credibility and the strength of our message.”
  13. Sky’s Joe Pike revealed that Robert Goodwill has told his constituents a similar message: “he should be relieved of his post”.
  14. On Sky this morning Martin Vickers said he “should have done the decent thing and stood down”.
  15. According to the Harrogate Advisor, Andrew Jones told constituents he believed Mr Cummings had “broken the guidelines which we were and are all expected to follow”.
  16. David Warburton tweeted that  he was “unconvinced” by the PM’s Sunday night defence of his adviser.
  17. Peter Aldous tweeted: “It is thus important that Dominic Cummings should now stand down.”
  18. Robert Halfon deleted his tweet in support of Cummings and said: “I would first like to make it clear to residents that I regret. writing the tweet yesterday in the way I did about the Number 10 political adviser and his movements. I am really sorry for it. I do not support, or condone anyone who has broken the law or regulations. Anyone who has done so should face the consequences.”
  19. Robert Largan wrote: “We can’t have a position where it is one rule for the public and another for politicians.
  20. Bob Stewart said on Facebook: “The truth is that, whether Mr Cummings broke or didn’t do the right thing, he certainly destroyed the spirit of the rules by what he did… I am afraid I believe his position is thus untenable.”
  21. Dehenna Davison tweeted that she “sincerely hope[s]” that reports of Mr Cummings travelling to Barnard Castle are “not true”.
  22. John Stevenson said “in the interests of the country Mr Cummings should resign”.

Downing Street will be hoping there will be no more questions, but a few seem outstanding.

Why didn’t the Prime Minister ask about this trip during Lockdown even if Dominic Cummings didn’t tell? Will Boris Johnson confirm to reporters and in the Commons that he neither asked nor knew before last weekend?

Is it really the case that none of the three Cummings have tested positive? We now know their child tested negative after a run to the hospital, but neither Mary Wakefield nor Dominic Cummings have yet claimed that they have tested positive.

When, where and how were they ill of whatever they were ill of? As a result of Mr Cummings’s statement, all we know now – in terms of the current set of claims – is that their son did not have Covid-19. Obvious discrepancies between their Spectator articles and the press conference claims include just how long Mr Cummings is supposed to have been bedridden for – was it ‘a day or two’ or a week or more? Was he incapacitated too? From when until when?

Dominic Cummings now claims he and his wife went north for childcare they didn’t need, didn’t get, and didn’t ask for before they left London. How was this compatible with the rules his slogans urged on the public?

The drive to Barnard Castle, now admitted to, was a clear breach of the rules, but credulity is strained in terms of a child understandably needing to relieve itself on that journey, but not from or to London.

Mr Cummings cited his phone for proof of some of his movements, though not for others, but offered no actual data. Will he in fact offer data from any of his phones, or Mary Wakefield’s, to bear out their Lockdown movements?

He implied that the clear misdirection in their Spectator articles arose because of not wishing to inflict ‘security’ implications on his parents’ home, if they had revealed that was where in fact they had gone to. If he thought this was a risk for his parents, why expose them to that? And what security risk did he realistically expect during the height of lockdown when the public had vanished from city streets and private woods alike?

Pro-Cummings outriders are parsing the statements of the Durham police as supposedly being to blame for misconceived reporting. Who told No 10 to tell the press that there had been no police contact between any member of the Cummings family and the police when this is now demonstrably untrue? Why was this untruth not corrected, either by Mr Cummings personally or No 10 corporately?

Why can’t Spectator staff drive?

In what was a heavily legalistic statement, not a word of apology was made. Dominic Cummings may well not think the public who obeyed the Lockdown are mugs for not gaming the rules. He did not do a good job of getting over that that’s what the PM’s top advisor thinks.

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