Dominic Cummings scandal

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The Dominic Cummings scandal,[1][2][3] or the Dominic Cummings affair,[4][5] is a political story involving the British political strategist Dominic Cummings, during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom.

Background

Cummings

Dominic Cummings was appointed in a role as a senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 24 July 2019. He was described as having an unprecedented level of influence upon the actions of the Prime Minister and government.

Nationwide lockdown

On 23 March, Boris Johnson announced wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of movement in the UK in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19. He set out limited reasons upon which people could leave their homes. Self-isolation had already been instructed for those with COVID-19 symptoms.[6] The government instructed people to remain at home unless absolutely necessary, with certain provisos. The rules were stricter if a person in a household had virus-like symptoms or had them recently.

Timeline

  • 27 March 2020: Boris Johnson announced he had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The same day, Cummings received a phone call at work from his wife, Mary Wakefield, to say that she was feeling ill and had vomited. About an hour after Johnson's announcement,[7] Cummings was seen rushing home from 10 Downing Street.[6] His wife's condition improved and he returned to work but that night they discussed her situation. Although she did not have a cough or fever he believed that she had caught the virus and that he was likely to catch it too. At that time he was well. They were both worried that they would become too weak to look after their four year old son. They drove to Durham that night to stay at a house on his parents' land near to their house and that of his sister. The sister and her daughters had offered to help with the childcare. Cummings, his wife and child arrived at Durham at around midnight. This house was 264 miles (425 km) from his usual residence in London.
  • 28 March 2020: Cummings woke up with COVID-19-like symptoms, which got worse in that he barely left his bed over the following days. His wife's health improved. He said he experienced a "bad headache and a serious fever".[6]
  • 30 March 2020: The government confirmed that Cummings had displayed symptoms of COVID-19 and was self-isolating at home. The report did not mention the trip to Durham. ITV News states that this is when Cummings may have made his trip to Durham.[8]
  • 2 April 2020: Cummings' son became ill and was taken to hospital by ambulance following medical advice. He was tested for COVID-19 and the result given later was that he was not suffering from the virus. Cummings said he was too ill to go to the hospital, but his wife went.
  • 3 April 2020: Cummings went to fetch his wife and son by car, but did not get out of the car. His son had recovered.
  • 12 April 2020: Cummings was well enough, he said, to return to London. That day the family drove to Barnard Castle (30 miles away). Cummings stated this was to test whether he was well enough to drive, having some problems with his eyesight. He left the car at Barnard Castle after feeling sick.[9]
  • 13 April 2020: Along with his family, he travelled back to London.[10]

Newspaper investigations

On 22 May, the Daily Mirror and The Guardian issued a joint investigation alleging that the police had spoken to Cummings, and breaking news of his trip to Durham.[11] On 24 May, The Observer and Sunday Mirror alleged that Cummings had made a second trip to Durham on 19 April during lockdown after returning to, and being photographed in, London, allegations which Cummings denied.[12][13]

Mary Wakefield, Cummings' wife and a journalist and commissioning editor with The Spectator, wrote an article for the publication on 25 April, in which she described her and her husband's experiences while in lockdown with COVID-19.[14][15] On the same day, she was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Today to discuss her experience with the virus. However, in neither the article nor the interview did she mention that they had travelled to Durham. Alleged inconsistencies between Cummings' account and his wife's[16] led to complaints from the public to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which is investigating "potential factual inaccuracies" in the article.[17]

Reaction from Cummings

Cummings was filmed leaving his home in London on 23 May while reporters questioned him. He said he had "behaved reasonably and legally", and when asked about how his actions looked, he said "Who cares about good looks? It's a question of doing the right thing. It's not about what you guys think".[18]

On 25 May, Cummings appeared at a press conference in the rose garden of 10 Downing Street, taking questions from the media. He explained his sequence of events and argued "There is no regulation covering the situation I found myself in. He explained that there was a proviso that journeys to facilitate child care counted as necessary and that he believed that this trip to Durham was therefore allowed.[19] He said that he had spoken to Boris Johnson about his decision to travel to Durham at some point leading up to 6 April. He said that due to the condition both he and Johnson were in, "neither of us remember the conversation in any detail".[6] He described experiencing threats of violence which led him to move to an "isolated cottage on his father's farm as he became concerned about his family's safety.[20][21]

There were reports of the family being seen in a wood near Houghall, near Durham on 19 April, and elsewhere in the area. Cummings said they were not there, that they were in London and had not returned to Durham, pointing to evidence on his phone which he said proved this.[22]

Political reaction

The Scottish National Party leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford and the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, called for Cummings to resign if the allegations were to be confirmed, while the Labour Party said 10 Downing Street needed to provide a "very swift explanation" for his actions.[23]

On 23 May, Downing Street released a statement saying Cummings' journey was essential, and the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps used part of the televised COVID-19 update to support him. Boris Johnson, as the speaker in next day's COVID-19 update, defended Cummings and said he had acted "responsibly, legally and with integrity". Other government ministers, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, also supported him.[7] Following Johnson's statement of support, "Mr Cummings faced renewed pressure to resign after ministers, MPs, scientific advisers and pro-Conservative newspapers called on Mr Johnson to sack him".[24] Forty-five Conservative Party MPs called for Cummings to resign, and a further fifty-three were critical of his actions, although they did not seek his resignation.[25]

Ex-chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), Conservative MP Steve Baker, said: "The country can't afford this nonsense, this pantomime, Dominic should go and we should move on and deal with things that matter in people's lives."[26] Cummings' press conference in the rose garden of 10 Downing Street was met with scepticism from both the media and the public.[27] The day after he made it, Douglas Ross, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, resigned from the government, arguing that his interpretation of the guidelines was "not shared by the vast majority of people".[28] The backbench MP Jeremy Hunt claimed that Cummings had breached the lockdown rules on three occasions, which were a return to work after spending time with his wife when she was ill, and visiting both Durham and Barnard Castle.[29]

A number of Bishops of the Church of England were critical of the way Johnson and Cummings responded to the issue, some of whom later received hate mail.[30][31]

The crisis saw a sharp fall in support for the Conservatives and rise in support for the Labour Party, with, according to one YouGov poll, the gap between the two parties shrinking by nine percentage points.[32] A University College London study published in The Lancet found that confidence in the government had decreased from 4.5 out of 7 to 3.5, from the start of the lockdown to after the controversy. This was referred to by researchers as the 'Dominic Cummings effect'.[33][34]

Durham Constabulary investigation

On 31 March, 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".[7][35] On 1 April, the constabulary spoke to Cummings' father.[6]

On 25 May 2020, Durham's acting police, crime and victims' commissioner, Steve White, asked Durham Constabulary to investigate any potential breach of the law or regulations in relation to Cummings' Durham movements.[36][37] The constabulary opened an investigation into Cummings' actions the next day.[38]

On 28 May, Durham Constabulary said that they didn't consider this an offence to have been committed by Cummings in travelling from London to Durham.[39] They also said that a minor breach relating to lockdown rules might have occurred at Barnard Castle. They also said there was insufficient evidence of a return to the Durham area on 19 April.[39]

On 3 June, it was reported that Durham County Council was investigating complaints it had received that the cottage Cummings stayed in did not hold the relevant planning permission.[40]

Dramatisation

It was reported that the controller of BBC drama commissioning, Piers Wenger, was considering purchasing rights to a drama adaptation of the scandal, and that writers were delivering pitches to the corporation.[41][42]

References

  1. Tharoor, Ishaan (27 May 2020). "The Cummings scandal shows the gap between the U.S. and U.K." The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  2. "Dominic Cummings scandal: What did he do and did he break lockdown?". LBC. 27 May 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  3. "Dominic Cummings: What is the scandal about?". BBC News. 26 May 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  4. "The Dominic Cummings affair reveals UK government's weakness". Financial Times. 26 May 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  5. Morris, Nigel (27 May 2020). "The Dominic Cummings affair has really cut through to voters and is deeply damaging the Government". inews. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "Dominic Cummings: Did he break lockdown rules?". BBC News. 26 May 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Dominic Cummings' Durham trip: Timeline of events as minister resigns over No 10 response". ITV News. 26 May 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  8. "Dominic Cummings' Durham trip: Timeline of events as minister resigns over No 10 response". ITV News. 26 May 2020. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  9. "Dominic Cummings: What we know about his drive to Durham amid coronavirus lockdown". The Telegraph. 28 May 2020. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  10. Johnston, John; Honeycombe-Foster, Matt (25 May 2020). "Dominic Cummings reveals son was hospitalised as he says he acted 'reasonably and legally' in lockdown visit to Durham". Politics Home. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  11. Weaver, Matthew (22 May 2020). "Pressure on Dominic Cummings to quit over lockdown breach". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  12. Pike, Joe (23 May 2020). "Coronavirus: Dominic Cummings made second trip to Durham during lockdown - reports". Sky News. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  13. "Coronavirus: Dominic Cummings 'made second lockdown trip'". BBC News. 24 May 2020. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  14. Wakefield, Mary. "Getting coronavirus does not bring clarity". The Spectator (25 April 2020). Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  15. Grant, Katie (24 April 2020). "Dominic Cummings collapsed and spent 10 days in bed after getting coronavirus". inews. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  16. Bland, Archie (26 May 2020). "Inconsistencies between Cummings' lockdown story and his wife's". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  17. Waterson, Jim (28 May 2020). "Quarantine article by Dominic Cummings' wife reported to regulator". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  18. "Dominic Cummings defends 250 mile trip during lockdown". BBC News. 23 May 2020. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  19. Kenber, Billy (26 May 2020). "I tried to do the right thing but reasonable people may disagree". The Times. p. 4.
  20. BBC News (UK) [@BBCNews] (25 May 2020). ""I was subject to threats of violence, people came to my house shouting threats" PM Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings says concerns about his family's safety prompted decision to drive to his father's farm and stay at an "isolated cottage" bbc.in/3gfgSPL" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  21. Hymas, Charles (27 May 2020). "Scotland Yard offers Dominic Cummings advice over security as adviser faces protests outside home". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 August 2020. In his statement on Monday, Mr Cummings said one reason for moving north to his parents’ farm in Durham was fears over his safety and that of his family after receiving threats.
  22. Bland, Archie (24 May 2020). "Dominic Cummings timeline: what we know about his movements". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  23. Speare-Cole, Rebecca (23 May 2020). "Labour demands 'swift explanation' amid reports that Dominic Cummings broke coronavirus lockdown rules". Evening Standard. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  24. Payne, Sebastian (24 May 2020). "Boris Johnson's defence of Dominic Cummings provokes furious backlash". Financial Times. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  25. Mason, Rowena (28 May 2020). "The Conservative MPs calling for Dominic Cummings to go". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  26. "Coronavirus: Dominic Cummings 'made second lockdown trip'". BBC News. 24 May 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  27. "Dominic Cummings - lessons for the agency industry". Estate Agent Today. 30 May 2020.
  28. "Dominic Cummings: Minister Douglas Ross quits over senior aide's lockdown actions". BBC News. 26 May 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  29. Fisher, Lucy; Grylls, George. "Dominic Cummings lockdown breach: Jeremy Hunt leads backbench revolt". The Times.
  30. Sherwood, Harriet (25 May 2020). "Bishops turn on Boris Johnson for defending Dominic Cummings". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  31. Davies, Caroline (26 May 2020). "Church leaders criticise lack of apology from Dominic Cummings". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  32. Honeycombe-Foster, Matt (27 May 2020). "Boris Johnson's poll lead cut by nine points in a week as Dominic Cummings row rumbles on". Politics Home. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  33. Knapton, Sarah (6 August 2020). "'Dominic Cummings effect' has led to major loss of confidence in Government, study reveals". The Telegraph. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  34. Fancourt, Daisy; Steptoe, Andrew; Wright, Liam (2020). "The Cummings effect: politics, trust, and behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic". The Lancet. Elsevier. 396 (10249): 464–465. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(20)31690-1. ISSN 0140-6736.
  35. Weaver, Matthew (22 May 2020). "Dominic Cummings, coronavirus and lockdown – a timeline". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  36. "Durham police asked to establish whether Dominic Cummings broke the law". The Independent. 25 May 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  37. Dodd, Vikram (25 May 2020). "Durham police to be asked to investigate Dominic Cummings". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  38. Weaver, Matthew; Dodd, Vikram (26 May 2020). "Durham police open investigation into Dominic Cummings". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  39. 39.0 39.1 "Dominic Cummings 'might have broken lockdown rules' - police". BBC News. 28 May 2020.
  40. "Cummings' lockdown-trip cottage plans investigated". BBC News. 3 June 2020. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  41. Chilton, Louis (3 June 2020). "BBC considering drama series based on Dominic Cummings lockdown scandal". The Independent. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  42. Read, Jonathon (2 June 2020). "BBC bosses interested in 'The Road to Barnard Castle' drama about Dominic Cummings". The New European. Retrieved 21 August 2020.

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