UK PM's aide Dominic Cummings refuses to quit; cities 'exceptional circumstances' for 400-km drive during lockdown

Last Updated 26 May 2020, 09:32 IST

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's embattled top aide on Monday refused to quit and defended his actions of driving over 400 kilometres to his parents’ home at the height of the coronavirus stay-at-home lockdown, seen as a breach of rules.

Dominic Cummings, who as Johnson's Chief Strategy Adviser is mostly a behind the scenes figure, addressed an unusual press briefing in the Rose Garden of 10 Downing Street in London as furore over his journey continued to escalate into a crisis threatening the UK Prime Minister's authority.

He said he did not to tell the prime minister when he decided to drive his family 260 miles (over 400 kms) during lockdown, when his wife developed COVID-19 symptoms.

He said he believed he was acting "reasonably" and within the law.

Cummings also said he had not considered resigning over the issue - but should have made a statement on it earlier.

"I don't think I am so different and that is one rule for me and one rule for other people," he said in a statement as the UK the deadly disease has claimed nearly 37,000 lives in the country.

"I think I behaved legally and responsibly throughout, given the circumstances. I understand that some people do not feel I should have left but I respectfully disagree," said Cummings, explaining in detail that the reason he undertook the journey on March 31 was to ensure his four-year-old child would have family support if he and his wife got too ill to look after him.

"In terms of the rules, they made clear that if you are dealing with small children that can be exceptional circumstances, and what I was dealing with was exceptional. I dealt with it in the way that was the least risk to everybody involved," he said, adding that he was also worried that "death threats" he had already received related to incorrect media reports over his role in the lockdown would get worse.

The senior Downing Street official also blamed the media for incorrect reporting about him taking multiple journeys back and forth between London and Durham and gave a detailed account of all the trips he and his family undertook in recent weeks.

He faced a volley of tough questions from the media, demanding if he regretted his actions as they have been seen to break the spirit of the law.

"I don't regret what I did... I was trying to do the best I could in a difficult situation," he declared.

He admitted that he can understand why people are angry and in hindsight he believes he should have made a statement on the situation earlier.

"I don't think I am so different and that there is one rule for me and one rule for other people," he said, in response to questions.

He also revealed that his four-year-old son had been taken to hospital while he was self-isolating at his family's farm in Durham.

The issue has dominated the headlines since Saturday, when his trip to Durham was first reported.

Johnson has fully backed his closest aide, saying he acted instinctively like any other parent would.

However, the UK PM has come under a lot of pressure from all sides of the political spectrum to sack his closest aide for flouting the strict stay-at-home rules, with concerns that the issue puts the government's entire public health messaging at risk.

(Published 25 May 2020, 22:25 IST)

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