Michael Gove has said Dominic Cummings’ 260-mile trip to Durham with his son and symptomatic wife was a ‘reasonable’ way to keep his family safe.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, the Cabinet Office minister said he was unaware of the journey made by Boris Johnson’s top adviser until the story first hit the headlines on Friday. He added: ‘I was convinced there would be an explanation because I know he’s a man of honour and integrity.’
Yesterday Mr Cummings held a press conference in the Downing Street rose garden in which he sought to set out why he had not broken lockdown rules, but his account threw up a number of other questions. When asked why the family went on a 60-mile round trip from the family’s Durham home to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight before travelling back to London as he feared it had been affected by coronavirus.
When asked about this account, Gove said: ‘It was important he believed he should return to work, he checked with medics and he wanted to check he was safe to drive. People can then form their own judgement about whether or not what they thought he did was wise. My own view is that it is entirely reasonable.’
Gove, who had Mr Cummings under his wing as an adviser during David Cameron’s Government, said the account given yesterday was ‘exhaustive, detailed and verifiable’. Pressed on the fact the trip fell on the birthday of the political strategist’s wife Mary Wakefield, he said: ‘I can’t see the relevance of that’.
Visit our live blog for the latest updates: Coronavirus news live
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: ‘The allegation from some was he was heedlessly and recklessly putting other people in danger, I think if we look at the whole story we can see that was not the case.’
He added: ‘I think Dominic completely understands the sense of concern people felt as the story broke. I think people will make their own mind up as they listened to Dominic’s account.
‘I think most people will understand he was under pressure, and sought to put the health of his wife and son first, and took care to ensure they as a family unit were not in danger of infecting other people.’
Mr Cummings says he made the trip to arrange suitable care for his son in case he and his wife both fell ill from coronavirus. He says they stayed in a separate building on his parents’ farm and that none of their usual childcare options in the capital were available at the time.
As he carries out this morning’s media rounds, Gove was given a grilling by Sky New’s Kay Burley, who asked why Mr Cummings thought it was wise to travel from what was then the UK’s coronavirus hotspot to a rural area with few cases.
The minister replied: ‘It was the case that Dominic made sure thath is family unit was in a positon – he his wife and his son – not to infect others. By maintaining social isolation during that period they reduced the risk of anyone else needing to have social contact with them and therefore reducing the risk of spreading.’
After claiming doctors had ‘cleared him to be able to return to work’ Ms Burley asked if there was any need for the ‘test drive to Barnard Castle. Gove said: ‘I think he was wise to make sure he was comfortable before driving back down to London on the A1, an inevitably busier road, and of course it is the case it was part of the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s guidance that you could drive at that time to take exercise as well.’
Quoting a tweet from the Bishop of Leeds, Ms Burley said: ‘The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs? The moral question is not for Mr Cummings – it is for PM and ministers/MPs who find this behaviour acceptable. What are we to teach our children? (I ask as a responsible father.)’
A stumped Gove simply said: ‘I wish the bishop well’.
After an awkward silence, Ms Burley responded: ‘Is that all you want to say him?’
Gove responded: I wish him well. I’m a Christian too, and I think therefore I have great respect for the church, for bishops, for the leadership they exercise. I wish him well.’
Gove accepted an earlier explanation of the trip to Durham would have led to less ‘confusion about what happened’.
He added: ‘But, I think, fundamentally, that now he has given an account, all of us can make our minds up, whether we are bishops or broadcasters, about the appropriateness of his actions.’
Former Greater Manchester Police chief constable Sir Peter Fahy said officers are ‘frustrated’ by the Dominic Cummings scandal, adding it is difficult to see the police’s role in controlling lockdown.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There’s a lot of confusion and it feels like there’s quite a gap between the public narrative and narrative of ministers about the lockdown and what’s happening on the street.
‘I think it’s quite hard to see the role the police have in the future – the rules about the reasons for travel are now very confused, when you see the crowds on Bournemouth and Southend beaches and other places yesterday it’s hard to see what role the police have in trying to control that.’
Sir Peter, asked if Mr Cummings would have been sent home if an officer had stopped him on his way to Durham.
He added: ‘I think at that point in terms of what was the understanding of the regulations and the Government messaging I think it may well be that absolutely he’d have been turned back, as many other people were turned back from things that they were doing.’
On the trip to Barnard Castle, Sir Peter said: ‘Clearly, number one, that’s ill-advised as a means of testing your eyesight as to whether you’re fit to drive, but again it’s hard to see – unless there’s some justification that that was to take daily exercise – how that was justified.
Asked if it was a criminal offence, he said: ‘It certainly appears to be against the Highway Code, it’s not the way to test your eyesight, and put potentially other people in danger.’
Gove told the programme people will ‘make their own mind up’ about the actions of Mr Cummings.
He added: ‘What’s clear is that he didn’t break the law, he didn’t break the rules, he sought to protect his family.
‘And he also sought to ensure the risk of anyone in his family infecting anyone else was absolutely minimised.’
Asked what was Mr Cummings’ reasonable excuse under the law to drive to Barnard Castle, Mr Gove said the adviser was ‘preparing to return to work’ and wanted to be ‘confident’ in his ability to drive to London.’
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]
For more stories like this, check our news page.