Government backtracks on Matt Hancock's promise to review lockdown finesby Faye Brown
The government has ruled out reviewing fines for parents who breached lockdown rules for childcare-related travel.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said there would be no formal review less than 24 hours after his colleague Matt Hancock told the daily press briefing that he would ‘look at’ refunds for people who found themselves in a similar situation to Dominic Cummings.
Ministers are facing their fifth day defending the PM’s chief adviser, who made a 260 mile trip to his parents’ estate In Durham when his wife fell ill with symptoms of coronavirus, despite guidelines saying people must self-isolate at home and not leave even for essential food or supplies.
Mr Cummings says he left London to be nearer his family, who would be able to look after his four-year-old child if he too came down with the deadly virus.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Mr Jenrick said parents worried about childcare can ‘do as Dominic Cummings chose to do’.
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‘If there are no other options, if you don’t have ready access to childcare, you can do as Dominic Cummings chose to do’ he told the Today programme.
He added: ‘The guidelines say you must do your best, but they appreciate that family life poses particular challenges and in order to protect you children you are allowed to exercise degree of personal judgement.’
Despite reiterating that Mr Cummings’ actions were legal, he quashed hopes there would be a review into fines that may have been issued to parents for making similar trips.
He said: ‘No, there isn’t going to be a formal review. It’s for the police to decide whether to impose fines under the law.
‘They have the guidance that we’ve provided and the national police chiefs have provided their own guidance, which does give officers a degree of discretion to use their common sense, reflecting the fact that all of our circumstances are different and families, in particular, face particular challenges.
‘They are encouraging their officers to engage in the first instance, to explain and to resort to fines only where absolutely necessary and in most cases that is what’s happened.’
Many have argued Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules by travelling to Durham, saying it was not a extreme circumstance where there was a risk to life.
So-far, 30 Tory MPs have called for him to be sacked by Boris Johnson, while senior ministers are reported to have privately demanded he go.
Junior minister Douglas Ross was the first to resign over the row yesterday, saying he could not ‘in good faith’ tell constituents Mr Cummings behaved appropriately when people had missed funerals of their loved ones under stay at home rules.
Defending the PM’s chief aide, Mr Jenrick added: ‘Dominic Cummings didn’t break the guidelines, the police haven’t chosen, as far as I’m aware, to impose a fine upon him, and so I think we have to leave it there.’
The question of reviewing fines was raised by a member of the public, Reverend Martin Poole from Brighton, at yesterday’s briefing.
Mr Hancock said: ‘That’s a very good question. We do understand the impact and the need for making sure that children get adequate childcare. That is one of the significant concerns that we’ve had all the way through this.
’I’ll have to talk to my Treasury colleagues before I can answer [the question] in full. We will look at it.
‘And if we can get your details we’ll make sure that we write to you with a full answer and make an announcement from this podium. I think we can make that commitment.’
Reverend Poole said he was ‘disappointed’ ministers have rowed back on Mr Hancock’s promise.
‘We are all sharing in this sense of frustration that the boundaries around these rules seem to be flexible when we didn’t think they were’ he told Good Morning Britain on Wednesday.
‘It is disappointing. You expect open and honest responses [from the government], if the response is no and they can’t do that, then that’s fair enough.
‘But sadly that message reinforced the feeling that we are all operating under different sets of values. I was hoping that our leaders and advisers would be held to the same sets of values and regulations that the rest of us are.’
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