Update (1400ET): As expected, PM Boris Johnson said during a live statement to the press broadcast Monday evening that he would resist calls to fire Cummings, and that he agrees with his advisors' assessment that he didn't violate the lockdown rules, despite the intransigence of the British press.
Prime Minister's press conference live now on @BBCNews— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 25, 2020
Well...the PM does say he regrets the 'confusion and anger' that people feel about what's happened, but people must 'make up their own minds'— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 25, 2020
Johnson says 'he had a lot on his plate' when Cummings told him he had gone to Durham but doesn't apologise for knowing what had gone on for weeks— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 25, 2020
No follow up questions at tonight's press conference with the PM— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 25, 2020
Despite Johnson's definitive answer, we suspect the press will find an excuse to keep this story alive for another week or so...
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Update (1150ET): After hyping up this press briefing as the moment when Dominic Cummings would finally confront all the braying UK press jackals who have been baying for his blood, the press have been hard-pressed to ask specific questions during the Q&A, and have mostly resorted to asking Cummings different versions of the same question: "Are you ashamed, sir?"
These questions, in our estimation, add little value to the coverage or the conversation. During his extensive statement, Cummings offered a detailed explanation of all his actions during the 2 week period in question, and subsequently, accounting for all his actions, including controversial and previously unexplained trips to Barney Castle and a reported trip to Durham on April 19.
Cummings explained that because he was scrambling to secure child care for his small children should he and his wife - who both suffered from COVID- become incapacitated, he was justified in seeking help from family in Durham, and all his other actions. He explained how he had never violated any social distancing conventions, including never leaving the property in which he was quarantined during his period of sickness, and never actually coming into contact with members of the public.
Cummings added that a reported trip back to Durham on April 19, reported by several tabloids and left-wing newspapers like the Guardian, was "untrue" and that cellphone data and CCTV footage would confirm he remained in London on that day.
The newswire headlines have started to roll in:
- JOHNSON'S AIDE DOMINIC CUMMINGS SPEAKS TO U.K. MEDIA IN LONDON
- UK'S CUMMINGS: ON NIGHT OF APRIL 2 MY SON WAS TAKEN TO HOSPITAL
- UK'S CUMMINGS: I DROVE TO COLLECT SON, WIFE FROM HOSPITAL
- UK'S CUMMINGS: I DROVE WITH FAMILY TO BARNARD CASTLE APRIL 12
- UK'S CUMMINGS: I TOOK 10-15 METER WALK IN BARNARD CASTLE AREA
- UK'S CUMMINGS: I THINK RULES ALLOWED ME TO EXERCISE MY JUDGMENT
- UK'S CUMMINGS: I UNDERSTAND SOME THINK I SHOULDN'T HAVE DRIVEN
- UK'S CUMMINGS: I BELIEVE I MADE THE RIGHT JUDGMENT
- UK'S CUMMINGS: MY LONDON HOME WAS A TARGET FOR HARASSMENT
- UK'S CUMMINGS: I DON'T REGRET WHAT I DID. PEOPLE MAY DISAGREE
- UK'S CUMMINGS: I HAVE NOT CONSIDERED RESIGNING FROM GOVERNMENT
Cummings conceded that "it would have been better to have made this statement earlier", and acknowledged that the confusion about whether he had or hadn't broken the rules might inspire others to break the rules and put people at risk.
"People have shouted at me in the street 'why did you go back to see your parents when you didn't need to?' Cummings replied to one interlocutor. "But I didn't do that," he said, referring to the detailed explanation he had just given illuminating the reasoning behind his actions.
During the Q&A, only a handful of reporters actually asked pointed questions about the timeline. The sheer pugnacity of the repetitive questions lobbed at Cummings by the press should dispel the notion that Cummings actually transgressed, and remind readers that the media operates according to their own interests, not the noble 'pursuit of truth' that journalists like to bandy about as justification of their often indefensible reporting.
Reporters now appear to be latching on to the notion that Cummings should have consulted the PM - who was sick with COVID-19 and scrambling to lead the country through an unprecedented crisis - about his plans for safeguarding his family. Keep in mind, Cummings himself and his wife likely had the virus during this time (they showed symptoms, but have never been texted).
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Cummings just went live:
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Update (0930ET): Former FT editor Lionel Barber has an interesting theory about Cummings' press conference. All morning, the British press has been musing about Johnson's unprecedented move to allow an unelected advisor to hold a press conference.
In such a precarious situation, why is BoJo taking such an unpredictable risk? Unless...
Dominic Cummings is breaking the first rule in politics: political advisors should never become the story. Boris Johnson, the elected prime minister, is now allowing the unelected advisor to hold a press conference. Desperate stuff - unless Boris is setting him up for failure— Lionel Barber (@lionelbarber) May 25, 2020
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As the scandal reaches a fever pitch following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's failed attempt to draw a line under the scandal last night, it appears Dominic Cummings will now face down the British press baying for his blood.
With US markets closed for the Memorial Day Holiday, and most of the country looking forward to a holiday-shortened week, the furor over the US being 700 deaths away from 100k has inexplicably been drowned out by a burgeoning scandal in the UK involving Johnson and Cummings, his senior advisor and (according to the PM's left-wing critics) svengali, long considered a critical part of the PM's team.
Cummings has elicited widespread calls for him to resign by Labor and Tory MPs, as well as an NHS doctor who has said he will resign on Friday if Cummings hasn't by then.
Cummings alleged crime? He appeared to flout the extremely restrictive social distancing guidelines that he himself - as a key figure in Johnson's government - help craft. As we explained last night, the backlash against Cummings (and several similar scandals playing out in the US, Japan and elsewhere) is part of a populist backlash against the the burdensome lockdowns and government elites who signed off on them: "One rule for me, and another for thee" has become a rallying cry of sorts.
Even Wall Street strategists have picked up on the fulminating anger surrounding whether Cummings should resign - as 15 Tory MPs and several members of Johnson's cabinet have now called on him to do. Here's a quote from a client note from Rabobank:
"Arrogant and offensive." Not today’s Daily. Well not deliberately and/or any more than usual.
Rather those three words, followed by “Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?” were tweeted out by the British civil service on its official account yesterday before being deleted. This was in reference to the UK government lining up to bend over backwards to support PM Johnson’s advisor Dominic Cummings, who stands accused of having broken the virus lockdown rules that he helped draw up. Listen to UK radio and read the press: the sense of public anger is palpable when just weeks ago people were genuinely concerned for BoJo’s health. The lockdown was already fraying: now it may be undermined by a perceived “one rule for them and another for us”. Which we have a whole lot of globally on many fronts.
As Rabo points out above, even the civil service has turned on BoJo, who just weeks ago was fighting for his life in a London hospital, enjoying sky high approval ratings, and eliciting fawning editorials.
For those who are catching up on the scandal, here's a quick summary courtesy of Sky:
Boris Johnson is under growing pressure to fire top aide Dominic Cummings as 19 Conservative MPs, bishops and NHS staff called for his resignation over suggestions he broke lockdown rules.
The prime minister told the nation on Sunday Mr Cummings acted "responsibly, legally and with integrity" after his chief adviser admitted travelling 260 miles to his parents in Durham for childcare support after his wife displayed coronavirus symptoms.
Members of the public also claimed to have seen him in Barnard Castle, a picturesque town 30 miles from Durham, then again in the county after he had returned to London.
As the BBC reports, Cummings is expected to make a statement and take questions, an unprecedented act for a government advisor. However, the timing of Cummings statement and press conference are unclear...
No idea what will be in Cummings Statement... but can guarantee the final few words will be “First Question to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC”— Jon Hannah 🔸 #stopdv #fbpe #ubinow (@JCHannah77) May 25, 2020
...But Sky News will likely broadcast Cummings' statement and Q&A, which we expect may include new details about why two alleged trips to Barnard Castle, a picturesque town 30 miles from Cummings' parents' place in Durham, fell within the strict quarantine restrictions that Cummings himself helped design. Once a live feed is available, we will share it here.
Meanwhile, here's a timeline of the Cummings scandal, courtesy of ITV:
As the coronavirus crisis escalates, the UK is placed into lockdown with strict limitations on travel. The government guidelines state: "You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home."
Mr Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus, while chief medical officer Chris Whitty says he has symptoms of the disease and is self-isolating.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC he believes Mr Cummings was last seen in Downing Street on the same day and speculates he may have travelled either on the 27th or 28th.
Downing Street confirms Mr Cummings is suffering from coronavirus symptoms and is self-isolating.
Durham police are "made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city".
The force says officers "made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house."
"In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel."
An unnamed neighbour tells the Daily Mirror and the Guardian that Mr Cummings was seen in his parents’ garden.
"I got the shock of my life as I looked over to the gates and saw him," they said.
The Guardian approaches Downing Street about the story, only to be told by a spokesperson: "It will be a no comment on that one."
March 30 to April 6:
The period for which Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield describes the family’s battle with coronavirus, in the April 25 issue of the Spectator.
She makes no mention of the trip to Durham and describes the challenges of caring for their son while suffering the symptoms of Covid-19.
"This might be my only really useful advice for other double-Covid parents or single mothers with pre-schoolers: get out the doctor’s kit and make it your child’s job to take your temperature.
"Any game that involves lying down is a good game."
Number 10 is again contacted for comment regarding Mr Cummings’ trip by the Guardian. Instead of defending the journey, officials decline to comment.
Mr Cummings and his family are apparently spotted out walking 30 miles away from Durham in Barnard Castle, according to Robin Lees, 70, a retired chemistry teacher, whose claim is reported by the Observer and Sunday Mirror on May 24.
Mr Cummings returns to work for the first time since news he was suffering from coronavirus emerged.
Questions are raised about his adherence to social distancing advice as he is photographed walking in Downing Street with fellow aide Cleo Watson.
An unnamed witness apparently sees Mr Cummings out walking with his wife in Durham, recognising him by his trademark beanie hat and overhearing him remarking that the bluebells are "lovely". The claim is reported by the Observer and Sunday Mirror on May 24.
The government lifts the restriction on how far people can drive to reach the countryside and take exercise, but visits and overnight stays to second homes remain prohibited.
News breaks in the Mirror and the Guardian of Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham.
While there is no comment from Downing Street, close friends of Mr Cummings say: "He isn’t remotely bothered by this story, it’s more fake news from the Guardian. There is zero chance of him resigning."
Downing Street appears to be standing by the PM’s chief aide, saying in a statement: "Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.
"At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported."
Speaking to reporters outside his home, Mr Cummings says: "I behaved reasonably and legally."
When a reporter suggests his actions did not look good, he replies: "Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing.
It’s not about what you guys think."
Later at the daily Downing Street briefing, Mr Shapps says Mr Cummings has the PM’s "full support" and that Mr Johnson "knew that he was unwell and that he was in lockdown".
Mr Shapps says it had always been permissible for families to travel to be closer to relatives as long as they "go to that location and stay in that location".
Mr Johnson also pledged his "full support" on Saturday to his under-fire chief adviser.
Meanwhile, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Jenny Harries, says travelling during lockdown was permissible if “there was an extreme risk to life”, with a “safeguarding clause” attached to all advice to prevent vulnerable people being stuck at home with no support.
In a new statement released later in the evening, Durham police say officers were made aware on March 31 that Mr Cummings was present at an address in the city.
The force adds that the following morning an officer spoke with Mr Cummings’ father at his own request, and he confirmed his son had travelled with his family to the North East and was “self-isolating in part of the property”.
It says the force “deemed that no further action was required. However, the officer did provide advice in relation to security issues”.
In another evening statement, a No 10 spokesperson accuses the Mirror and Guardian of writing "inaccurate" stories about Mr Cummings, including claims that he had returned to Durham after going back to work in Downing Street on April 14.
"We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers," the spokeperson said.
Asked by a journalist outside his home whether he had returned to Durham in April, Mr Cummings says: "No, I did not."
A host of Tory MPs call for him to resign or for Mr Johnson to sack him.
But the PM, who fronts the daily Downing Street briefing, firmly backs Mr Cummings, saying his aide acted in the best interests of his child, in a way "any parent would frankly understand".
He insists Mr Cummings "acted responsibly, legally and with integrity".
The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: “I have had extensive face-to-face conversations with Dominic Cummings."
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