British Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed his senior adviser Dominic Cummings on Sunday, despite calls from within his own Conservative Party for the aide to resign for traveling 250 miles during the coronavirus lockdown.
Cummings, who masterminded the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union, came under pressure when newspapers reported he had travelled from London to Durham in late March, when Britain was under a strict lockdown to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
With Johnson’s words that he had acted with integrity, Cummings was safe. But the row within the governing Conservatives looked set to ripple on, with those who called for the senior aide’s resignation expected to be marginalized.
“I’ve had extensive face-to-face conversations with Dominic Cummings,” Johnson told a news conference.
“And I conclude that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus, and when he had no alternative - I think he followed the instincts of every father, and every parent. And I do not mark him down for that.”
“I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally,” he added.
A divisive figure, Cummings became the focus of criticism late on Friday when the Daily Mirror and Guardian newspapers reported he had travelled 400 km (250 miles) to Durham in northern England with his wife who had COVID-19 symptoms.
Johnson’s office said Cummings made the journey to ensure his 4-year-old son could be properly cared for by relatives if he too fell ill.
The journey took place at a time when millions of Britons were staying inside and foregoing contacts with friends and relatives. The government’s order at the time was everyone in a household where anyone had symptoms must not leave home.
The newspapers have since reported that Cummings was seen in northern England on other occasions. The government has denied this.
A number of cabinet ministers and the attorney general have said that the journey was justified.
But some Conservatives have said Cummings must go.
“I just see this rattling on now for day after day, wasting the public’s time, consuming political capital and diverting from the real issues we need to deal with,” Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker told Sky News. “No-one is indispensable.”
Other prominent British figures have resigned after breaking lockdown rules. Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson quit as a member of the government’s scientific advisory group after he was visited at home by his girlfriend. Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, stepped down after she was caught making two trips to her second home.
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