'Squirming' Boris Johnson accused of 'ducking straight answers' to protect Cummings


Boris Johnson squirmed as he was accused of “putting political concerns above the national interest” by continuing to protect Dominic Cummings.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper slammed the Prime Minister as the row over his top aide’s shameless flouting of ­lockdown regulations deepened.

She tackled him during a grilling by the Commons Liaison Committee as it emerged police questioning people’s movements are now being told: “If it’s OK for Cummings, it’s OK for us.”

The PM had been warned he risked undermining public health messages by backing Mr Cummings.

And furious Ms Cooper pressed him on the advice for parents concerned about childcare if they fall ill with coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Image: Getty)

Mr Johnson replied: “The clear advice is to stay at home unless you absolutely have to go to work. If you have exceptional problems with childcare then that may cause you to vary your arrangements.”

She shot back: “The reason you are ducking this, the reason you are not giving people a straight answer, is because you are trying to protect Dominic Cummings.

“The reason you have sent your ministers out to say fudgey things and unclear things is because you are trying not to incriminate Dominic Cummings and you don’t want to apologise for him.

“The problem is that means you are putting your political concerns ahead of clear public health messages to parents who have ­coronavirus.”

The Mirror revealed five days earlier how Mr Cummings broke strict lockdown rules by driving 260 miles with his wife and their four-year-old son from their London home to his parents’ farm in Durham in March to self-isolate there.

Dominic Cummings (Image: Phil Harris Daily Mirror)

But the PM today brushed off calls for an official inquiry by Britain’s top civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill. And during the 100-minute roasting from select committee chairs, he repeatedly pleaded to “move on” from the affair.

Dismissing demands for a Whitehall probe, Mr Johnson said: “Frankly, I’m not certain – right now – that an inquiry into that matter is a very good use of official time.

“We are working flat-out on coronavirus.”

But 40 Tory MPs were tonight demanding Mr Cummings quit or be fired. The latest to join the call, Giles Watling, said: “I’ve been listening to the PM in the Liaison Committee.

“I applaud him for sticking by his man but Mr Cummings should stand down. His continued presence at the heart of Government at this time is an unwanted distraction.”

Yvette Cooper (Image: Getty)

Fellow Tory Pauline Latham said: “Literally hundreds of constituents have contacted me on this issue. I wanted to reserve judgment until I heard Mr Cummings’ statement.

“Having now heard it, and considering the clearly expressed views of my constituents, who have made repeated sacrifices during lockdown, I have decided to make my view known to the Prime Minister that I believe Mr Cummings should resign.”

The damage being done to the party was underlined by a YouGov survey for The Times, which showed its lead over Labour had been cut by nine points during the Cummings row – the biggest drop since 2010. Support for the Government fell four points to 44% with Labour rising five to 38%.

Mr Cummings has defended his actions (Image: PA)

Mr Cummings has been accused of breaching rules saying people should stay at home and not travel, except in exceptional cases.

He claimed the trip was justified as he was worried about childcare for his son if he and his wife fell ill.

The scandal was a key issue in the video-link evidence session as the senior MPs probed Mr Johnson on the Government’s preparations for, and handling of, the Covid-19 pandemic.

The PM was ambushed with a Mumsnet poll showing 81% of parents either did not or would not have ­travelled for emergency childcare.

Mr Johnson has been accused of 'ducking it' when quizzed over Mr Cummings (Image: Sky)

Some 23% said they found themselves in a situation where one parent was ill and the other suspected they may become ill too while both were caring for a young child – and did not travel for emergency back-up.

Tory Simon Hoare warned the PM his aide’s behaviour could lead to people ignoring a secondary lockdown.

He said: “My inbox tells me that as a result of the last few days the response of the British people is going to be far less energetic than first time round.

"That is a direct result of the actions of your adviser. You’re right to say we know what your views are; frankly, Prime Minister, I don’t think anybody understands why you hold those views.

"What do we say to our constituents who are likely to say, ‘You can keep your lockdown if has to come back – if other people don’t abide by it, why on earth should we?”

Mr Hoare also told the PM the row had become a “distraction”.

The PM is sticking by Mr Cummings (Image: Daily Mirror Phil Harris)

But Mr Johnson said: “In so far as it is correct to say it is a distraction, then by that argument now is the time to leave it aside and move on.

“I understand people’s feelings. But I also think what they want now is us to focus on them and their needs rather than a political ding-dong about what one adviser may or may not have done.”

The PM repeated his new “move on” slogan six times as he urged his interrogators to change the subject – and tried to evade scrutiny of his decision to stick by Mr Cummings.

Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart told him: “I think you’ve been quite brave – brave in the way you have been prepared to sacrifice the credibility and popularity of your Government to stand by your man.

“You’ve done something I have never seen in 20 years in the House – you have managed to unite a nation in condemnation and indignation over your handling of Mr Cummings.

“The anger is reaching fever-pitch. Riding this out just looks like petulant defiance, it’s almost like you’re goading the nation. You know that eventually you’re going to have to let him go. Why don’t you now just get on with it?”

The PM’s ordeal came as Labour’s West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said officers are now getting “pushback” from people citing Mr Cummings.

Asked if the aide’s actions had had any impact on policing the lockdown, he said: “Until this morning, I would have hoped it wouldn’t.

"But now I’ve received reports from senior officers saying officers on the ground are reporting things like, ‘If it’s OK for Cummings, it’s OK for us’, and other people saying, ‘It looks like there’s one rule for us and another rule for the people in Number 10’.

“Now, if the rules are flexible and the people who seem to have interpreted them are at the heart of Government, it is almost impossible for police to carry out their job effectively.

“If certain people are seen to be able to, if you like, wheedle out of the rules and the laws, that undermines the public’s confidence in those laws.”