The Prime Minister’s powerful chief adviser refused to apologise for driving 400 kilometres from London to Durham even though he and his wife had coronavirus, and dismissed warnings from the government’s own scientific advisers that the saga undermined social distancing rules by creating a perception that government officials could circumvent the rules with no consequences.
Boris Johnson, who worked with Cummings on the campaign to leave the European Union, has stood by his adviser, saying at the weekend that the aide had followed the “instincts of every father” when he travelled with his wife for help with childcare.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister would like to thank Douglas Ross for his service to government and regrets his decision to stand down as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland.”
The resignation follows Cummings’ press conference the day before, wherein he detailed all his reasons for breaking the government’s lockdown rules, and even volunteered that he had taken a separate trip on Easter Sunday in which he, his wife and son undertook a 100-kilometre round trip from his parents’ farm to the small town of Barnard Castle.
Under pressure to explain that, Cummings claimed COVID-19 had damaged his eyes and he needed to test whether his sight was strong enough to eventually drive back to London.
“We decided we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely. We drove for roughly half-an-hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town.”
The Barnard Castle trip is now the most likely to bring Cummings unstuck. He could not say on Monday how the trip was permitted under Britain’s lockdown guidelines at the time.
Shortly before Ross’ resignation, Cabinet office Minister Michael Gove was dispatched to do the rounds of British morning television and radio to defend Cummings, after the adviser’s press conference appeared, from responses on social and mainstream media, to only heighten public fury about his behaviour.
Gove, a long-term ally of Cummings, said he did not break the letter of the government’s coronavirus lockdown guidelines and was simply trying to look after his wife and 4-year-old son.
“Dominic completely understands the sense of concern people have felt as this story broke,” Gove told the BBC. “Most people will understand that he was under pressure and sought to put the health of his wife and son first.”
“He is a man of honour and integrity,” Gove said of Cummings.
Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.