Special adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, answers questions from mediapersons at 10 Downing Street on Monday(AP photo)

I behaved legally and responsibly: Boris aide

Cummings says he undertook the journey to ensure that his child had support if he or his wife fell ill


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s embattled aide on Monday faced up to the media and defended his action of driving 260 miles to his parents’ home at the height of the coronavirus stay-at-home lockdown, seen as a breach of rules.

Dominic Cummings, who as Johnson’s chief strategy adviser is mostly a behind-the-scenes figure, addressed the press briefing at the Rose Garden of 10 Downing Street in London as furore over his journey continued to escalate into a crisis threatening the UK Prime Minister’s authority.

“I think I behaved legally and responsibly throughout, given the circumstances. I understand that some people do not feel I should have left but I respectfully disagree,” said Cummings, explaining in detail that the reason he undertook the journey on March 31 was to ensure his four-year-old child would have family support if he and his wife got too ill to look after him.

“In terms of the rules, they made clear that if you are dealing with small children that can be exceptional circumstances, and what I was dealing with was exceptional. I dealt with it in the way that was the least risk to everybody involved,” he said, adding that he was also worried that “death threats” he had already received related to incorrect media reports over his role in the lockdown would get worse.

The senior Downing Street official also blamed the media for incorrect reporting about him taking multiple journeys back and forth between London and Durham and gave a detailed account of all the trips he and his family undertook in recent weeks.

He faced a volley of tough questions from the media, demanding if he regretted his actions as they have been seen to break the spirit of the law.

“I don’t regret what I did... I was trying to do the best I could in a difficult situation,” he declared.

He admitted that he can understand why people are angry and in hindsight he believes he should have made a statement on the situation earlier. “I don’t think I am so different and that there is one rule for me and one rule for other people,” he said, in response to questions.

Cummings also revealed that his four-year-old son had been taken to hospital while he was self-isolating at his family’s farm in Durham.

The issue has dominated the headlines since Saturday, when his trip to Durham was first reported.

Johnson has fully backed his closest aide, saying he acted instinctively like any other parent would.

However, the UK Prime Minister has come under a lot of pressure from all sides of the political spectrum to sack his closest aide for flouting the strict stay-at-home rules, with concerns that the issue puts the government’s entire public health messaging at risk.

The Opposition branded Johnson’s defence of Cummings as an “insult” to all the sacrifices made by the British public during the pandemic, with a growing number of parliamentarians within Johnson’s own Conservative Party calling for his chief strategy adviser to be sacked.

“This was a test of 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,” said Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader .

His India-origin shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, added: “The Prime Minister confirms it’s one rule for his friends and another rule for the rest of us. All that sacrifice, stress and pain. What an insult.”

Acting Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey said sacking Cummings was a must to restore credibility around the government’s public health messaging.

“The instruction the Prime Minister gave us all to stay at home has been breached by his top adviser and that’s what you can’t get away from in this story, it’s pretty simple,” he said.

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Johnson of “putting his political interest ahead of the public interest”. “When trust in a public health message and public health advice is as important as it is right now the consequences could be very serious,” she said.

At the daily Downing Street briefing on Sunday evening, Johnson had thrown his weight behind his chief adviser and declared that he had followed the “instincts of every father”.