I had my own concerns when I first watched the news reports regarding the Prime Minister’s advisor, Dominic Cummings. I, like you, have been following the rules over lockdown in order to stop the spread of this terrible virus. I, like many of you, have not seen any family members and loved ones for many weeks. You have all made tremendous personal sacrifices in order to shield the most vulnerable in our society, as well as to protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. We are now seeing the beginnings of the gradual easing of these lockdown measures, but only because of the sacrifices you have made.
The initial media stories about Mr Cummings, his wife and son travelling to County Durham emerged many weeks ago and it is right that he explains what he did at that time and responds to the journalistic narrative. It is also important to clarify that, as an advisor, he does not make the law as that is the job of Parliamentarians. We are all equally bound by the law and also the rules that flow from the law which, as you know, are undergoing stages of revision as we deal with the global coronavirus pandemic. A number of MPs have breached the rules to visit relatives, attend funerals or travel long distances with Covid-19 symptoms. They have been exposed in the media and, where necessary, advised by the police on their behaviour as this has been thought to be the right approach.
The initial claims raised by the media revolved around Mr Cummings’ family moving from London to Durham to stay with his parents, the police cautioning him over a possible breach of lockdown rules and making multiple visits between London and Durham during this time. Each of these points are serious and I will address each of them in turn.
Mr Cummings has said that he moved to Durham so that if he and his wife were both incapacitated family members could look after their son. He did not move in with his parents or have close contact with his extended family. The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, said parents caring for a small child was a possible exemption and created an “exceptional circumstance” to the standard guidance.
The police did not caution any member of the Cummings family about a breach of the Covid-19 guidelines as the media have said. In fact – and this has been confirmed by Durham Police – they raised concerns about the family’s security as they know that politically motivated people could start aggressive protests outside their home if they discovered where they lived. The protests could have become as aggressive as the one outside their family home in London.
Mr Cummings made one return trip to Durham. Media reports that he made multiple journeys to Durham from London are incorrect.
Based on the media reports I had seen over the weekend, I was actively considering calling on the Prime Minister to sack Mr Cummings, but I always want to hear both sides of the story. I listened to what Mr Cummings had to say and, regarding the previous points, he is within the letter and spirit of the law. There are, however, two outstanding concerns that I have and they both emerged as Mr Cummings explained his actions. These are his decision to drive with impaired sight and his excursion to Barnard Castle.
The symptoms suggest that the sight problems are likely to have been due to conjunctivitis which the NHS says should not prevent people carrying on with normal life and does not suggest that people should not drive.
Current guidelines, derived from the law which was unanimously agreed in Parliament, say that people can travel to visit an attraction, such as Barnard Castle, but the guidelines at that time did not allow such a visit as we were still in a more restrictive phase of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Dominic Cummings clearly broke this rule, so how should I react? I do believe that people should be held to account and I also believe in a consistent approach of rules being applied equally to everybody no matter who they are.
Stephen Kinnock MP drove hundreds of miles to visit his parents, Lord and Lady Neil and Glynis Kinnock, was challenged about this but did not resign. A lesson was learnt, no further action was deemed necessary and it has not been repeated.
When reflecting on the circumstances around Dominic Cummings’ visit to Barnard Castle after he had been given the all clear to return to work from a medical professional, from all the evidence I have I believe he was wrong to make that journey, in the same way that Mr Kinnock was wrong to make his.
This does leave the question of “one rule for us and another rule for them” as they should apply equally to everyone. If Mr Cummings had applied double standards then I would call for the Prime Minister to sack him. However, I have not seen any evidence that he acted in this way – Mr Cummings’ uncle recently died and, because of the guidelines, he did not attend the funeral.
Coping with the coronavirus pandemic has been immensely difficult for so many millions of people who have seen normal life brought to a halt. This is particularly true for so many of my constituents who have written to me with heart-breaking stories of the impact it has had upon them and the sense of injustice and apparent double standards they have read about.
I hope that I have explained my thoughts on this matter but do realise that nothing will make up for the sacrifices you have made during this difficult time.
Chris Green MP
Member of Parliament for Bolton West & Atherton
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