Dominic Cummings has faced calls to resign since reports surfaced on Friday night that the Prime Minister's chief aide made a 260-mile trip to County Durham, despite lockdown restrictions and his wife suffering from coronavirus at the time. He insists he acted legally and responsibly and that his trip was to ensure the safety of his four-year-old son.
At an extraordinary press conference at Downing Street on Monday, Mr Cummings refused to resign and insisted he had not broken the rules.
Despite his account, some questions are still unanswered:
What did the Prime Minister know about Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham, and was the trip sanctioned by the PM?
Mr Cummings said that he had not asked the Prime Minister about his decision to leave for Durham and admitted that “arguably this was a mistake”.
“I did not ask the Prime Minister about this decision. He was ill himself and he had huge problems to deal with," Mr Cummings said.
“The Prime Minister’s time is just about the most valuable commodity that exists in the Government. The honest truth about my job is that there are endless problems all day long, and I can't go to him all day, asking him 'what do you think about that', 'what do you think about the other'; otherwise what's the point of having people like me around?”
“I have to get on with things. I have to make decisions, and sometimes I do the right thing and sometimes I make mistakes.
“Arguably this was a mistake and I understand that some will say that I should have spoken to the Prime Minister before deciding what to do.”
The week after arriving in Durham, Mr Cummings said he did inform the Prime Minister of his whereabouts while they were both sick with the virus. Neither of the men recall the conversion in detail because they were both “in bad shape”, Mr Cummings said.
The next time the matter was discussed between Mr Cummings and his boss was when journalists confronted Downing Street with the allegations on Friday evening, he said.
Did Mr Cummings and his wife stop at a service station? And, by doing so, did they put anyone else at risk?
Mr Cummings said that when he and his family made the long drive back to London from Durham they stopped for petrol along the way. However, he did not clarify whether he or his wife got out of the car, or whether they exposed anyone else to risk.
In the course of his journeys between Durham and London did Mr Cummings or his wife come into contact with other members of the public?
Mr Cummings claimed that made the 260-mile trip to Durham without stopping for petrol but made one stop on the way back. However, this would have been on the same tank of petrol with which he drove to Barnard Castle, a 60-mile round-trip from where he was staying in Durham. That means he travelled at least 580 miles and only stopped once to get petrol.
Did Mr Cummings visit Houghall Woods near his family’s Durham property on April 19?
Onlookers say that spotted the adviser at the beauty spot five days after being photographed back at work in Downing Street. If the account is correct this means Mr Cummings broke lockdown rules more than once.
At the press conference, Mr Cummings admitted to two trips to the woods. The first, he said, was on his father's property, and he was seen by a member of the public.
“At one point the three of us walked into woods, owned by my father," Mr Cummings said. "Some people saw us in these woods from a distance, but we had no interaction with them. We had not left the property, we were on private land."
Mr Cummings also admitted to another stop on the way back to his parents’ farm from Barnard Castle because his child said he needed the toilet.
“My wife and child jumped out into the woods by the side of the road," he said. "They were briefly outside, I briefly joined them. They played for a little bit."
Mr Cummings denied reports that he had returned to Durham after coming back to London. One witness said they had recognised him by his trademark beanie hat, and had overheard him remarking that the bluebells are "lovely" during a walk in Hougham Woods on April 19.
But Mr Cummings said: “Data on my phone would prove this to be false, and local CCTV if it exists, would also prove that I'm telling the truth that I was in London. On that day, I was not in Durham.”
Why could Mr Cummings and his wife not arrange childcare in London?
Mr Cummings said he was worried that if both he and his wife fell ill there was "nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to Covid".
The couple decided that, instead of asking family and friends in London, they would decamp to Durham where his sister and two nieces had offered to look after his son if necessary.
“In that scenario, what would be best for everybody, wouldn't it be best for a 17-year-old niece, to walk 50 metres and look after our child, or would it be best for me to be here? And, and call 999?” he said.
Did Mr Cummings visit Barnard Castle, 30 miles from Durham, on April 12?
Yes. Mr Cummings claimed that he drove to the market town of Barnard Castle on Sunday April 12 to "test his eyesight" before making the long trip back to London.
“We were all going to go back," he said. "My wife said we should drive down the road and you should see if you can actually drive, and see if your vision is weird or if you're okay. She didn’t want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child. And I thought, that's a good idea. I should do,” he said.
The family then made the 44-minute journey to Barnard Castle, and “ended up on the outskirts”, he said.
"I wasn't sightseeing, I didn't go to the castle," he said. “We parked by a river. My wife and I discussed the situation. We agreed that I could drive safely. We should turn around and go home.
“I felt a bit sick. We walked about 10 to 15 metres from the car to the riverbank nearby. We sat there for about 15 minutes. No interactions with anybody. I felt better.
“We returned to the car, and an elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognise me. My wife wished him happy Easter from a distance, but we had no other interaction.”
On what day did Mr Cummings fall ill and how long did he self isolate for?
Mr Cummings said that over the weekend of March 28-29, he and his family moved into a small cottage made from “concrete blocks” around 50m from his parents’ main residence.
“The next day, I got extremely ill,” he said. “A couple of days later I couldn't look after a child... I could barely move to be honest.”
Mr Cummings returned to work on April 14 and, according to his account, he had been isolating with his wife and children since around March 29.
Downing Street has challenged the statement of Durham police which states a family member of Mr Cummings’ was questioned by the force. Number 10 initially said that “at no stage” was the aide or his family spoken to by the police about this matter. Which account is true?
The Force had initially claimed officers spoke to Mr Cummings family, without naming them, and had offered advice on the coronavirus lockdown.
Hours later Downing Street denied that any member of Mr Cummings’ family had been spoken to by police, prompting the force to issue a clarifying statement in which he was named.
But on Monday Durham Police issued a third statement confirming it had not raised the issue of the lockdown.
The statement confirmed Robert Cummings had told officers his son was staying at his property and he and his wife were displaying signs of coronavirus and were self isolating.
The statement went on: “We can further confirm that our officer gave no specific advice on coronavirus to any members of the family and that Durham Constabulary deemed that no further action was required in that regard. Our officer did, however, provide the family with advice on security issues.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said being too ill to look after a small child was an “exceptional circumstance” on April 10 and she pointed to accessing family support. But Mr Cummings’ trip was almost two weeks before this advice was issued. What is his defence of this?
Mr Cummings did not address Dr Harries' point directly. However, he did argue that he had looked at official lockdown guidance published in March that banned people with coronavirus symptoms from leaving their home, and said: "If you have children, keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible. To me, the rules are there, they talk about what to do, they talk about exceptional circumstances and small children.
On Saturday night Ms Harries also said that people should only travel with coronavirus to seek childcare if there is an “extreme” risk to life. Was this the case?
While Mr Cummings' wife was displaying symptoms, Mr Cummings was not showing symptoms before the trip. In fact, he said the reason for his trip was because he worried that if both he and his wife fell ill there was "nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose themselves to Covid".
- Was Mr Cummings informed of the police investigating the matter?
- Why did Number 10 keep quiet about Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham for eight weeks?
- Did the Prime Minister have any role in the decision not to disclose the incident?
- Mr Cummings’ brother-in-law lives nearby – why did Mr Cummings not ask his for help with childcare?
- Alternatively, could the aide's sister not have travelled to London to collect their son?
- Boris Johnson said that Mr Cummings travelled to Durham because "both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus". But how could he have known he was about to become incapacitated? At the time of travel, Downing Street previously insisted that his wife was displaying symptoms, while Mr Cummings feared there was a "high likelihood" he too would develop the virus. This indicates he had not yet shown symptoms himself when the couple set off for the north east. So why did Boris Johnson say this? And was he acting under misinformation? If so, from whom?