THE SNP last night accused Boris Johnson of demeaning the office of Prime Minister after he refused to sack his special adviser for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules.
During a staggering press conference, the Tory leader claimed Dominic Cummings had “acted responsibly, legally and with integrity” despite driving more than 250 miles at the start of the restrictions to be near family.
Both Cummings and his wife, Mary Wakefield, had coronavirus symptoms at the time they travelled from London to Durham, and, as per government guidelines, should almost certainly have been self-isolating. Yesterday, in a further development, The Observer and Sunday Mirror said Cummings had been seen in Barnard Castle, more than 25 miles from Durham, on April 12. They also reported that he’d been back in London on April 14 and then spotted again in Houghall Woods near Durham on April 19. Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Johnson said some of the claims in the papers were “palpably untrue”, although he didn’t say which ones.
He also said Cummings had merely “followed the instincts of every father and every parent”. The Prime Minister said he’d spoken at length with his right-hand-man and had concluded there had been “no alternative” for Cummings but to travel to Durham for childcare as “both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus”.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, accused Johnson of “breathtaking arrogance”. He said the Prime Minister’s support of his rule breaking special adviser “sends out the message that there is one rule for the Tory Government and another for the rest of us”.
Blackford added: “Boris Johnson’s breathtaking arrogance sends out the message that there is one rule for the Tory Government and another for the rest of us.
“He is trying to take the public for fools, but I have no doubt that people will see right through it. “Families across all parts of the country have struggled through lockdown, without the ability to call on friends and family for childcare.
“In a desperate attempt to save his adviser Boris Johnson has thrown public health advice and the solidarity and sacrifice of millions to the wind. The Prime Minister’s refusal to act demeans his office and will cause lasting damage to public confidence in the Tory Government and its response to Covid-19.
“There is no question that Dominic Cummings broke the rules the minute he chose to drive to Durham. He is fatally undermining the public health message and must go.”
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Earlier in the day, Scotland’s Health Minister said she was worried Cummings’ behaviour could undermine government advice to self-isolate. Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, Jeane Freeman said self-isolation was a vital part of tackling coronavirus and “breaking that chain of transmission”. When you are self-isolating you should not go to the shops, or out for exercise or to help others. You should not leave the house for any reason.”
Asked outright if she thought Cummings should resign, she said her worry was that the “situation that is developing and emerging elsewhere in the United Kingdom” would confuse the public health message in people’s minds, and lead them to “think that maybe it doesn’t matter so much anymore”.
Freeman said the key message – that people with symptoms of the virus should self-isolate for a week, and the rest of their household should self-isolate for 14 days – was “going to stay with us” all the way through the Scottish Government’s four phase route map out of the lockdown.
“It is absolutely critical, not just to protecting your own health, if you have symptoms, and the health of those in your household, but protecting your family, outside of that household, protecting the community, and as your neighbour does it, should that be the case, they’re protecting you. So it truly is an exercise in looking after each other and it is a really vitally important thing that we do.”
After a weekend of silence, Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw finally emerged last night to throw his weight behind Johnson and, indirectly, Cummings.
“I’ve heard what the Prime Minister has said and it is a situation for him to judge,” he said in a statement. Carlaw added: “He has reached a conclusion and we must all now focus on continuing to beat this dreadful pandemic.
“I want the Prime Minister to be able to continue his excellent work leading the country out of lockdown and I am glad he set out his plans clearly today.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pointed out that Carlaw had seemingly had a change of heart in the last month.
Back in April, after Catherine Calderwood – who was Scotland’s chief medical officer at the time – was caught visiting her second home twice, Carlaw tweeted: “There cannot be one rule for bosses and another for everyone else.”
Responding, Sturgeon tweeted: “Strangely different to his view on Cath Calderwood. Leadership is saying/doing the right thing even when it’s tough for you – not just calling for it when it’s tough for your opponent.”
Earlier she had called on Cummings to go, tweeting: “I know it is tough to lose a trusted adviser at the height of crisis, but when it’s a choice of that or integrity of vital public health advice, the latter must come first. That’s the judgment I and, to her credit, Catherine Calderwood reached.
“PM and Cummings should do likewise.”