UK: Pressure mounts on PM aide to quit amid more lockdown breach claims

UK: Pressure mounts on PM aide to quit amid more lockdown breach claims

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide is facing increasing pressure to resign as further allegations emerged on Sunday of him breaching the coronavirus lockdown rules.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson's Chief Strategy Advisor, on Saturday defended a 250-mile journey to his parents' home in Durham, north-east England, as reasonable and legal, and the UK prime minister has so far stuck by him with Downing Street reiterating the same line.

However, Johnson now faces a revolt from within his own Conservative MPs over his decision to not sack Cummings as fresh allegations emerged of the aide making repeated trips in breach of the government's stay-at-home guidelines to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

The 'Observer' and 'Sunday Mirror' have reported that Cummings was seen in the northeast of England on two more occasions, after recovering from his COVID-19 symptoms.

On Sunday, newspapers report that witnesses saw Cummings in Barnard Castle, more than 25 miles from Durham, on April 12.

Two days later, on April 14, he was seen in London. According to a witness, he was spotted again in Houghall Woods near Durham on April 19.

Downing Street, however, branded the reports as inaccurate.

"Yesterday the Mirror and Guardian wrote inaccurate stories about Mr. Cummings. Today they are writing more inaccurate stories including claims that Mr. Cummings returned to Durham after returning to work in Downing Street on 14 April," a Downing Street statement said, in his defense.

"We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr. Cummings from campaigning newspapers," it added.

Cummings, also, denies a breach of the coronavirus rules, saying he needed childcare help after his wife also developed COVID-19 symptoms and they drove to Durham to stay in a separate building at his parents' property.

The UK Cabinet has, meanwhile, largely rallied around Cummings, with Indian-origin finance minister Rishi Sunak saying: "Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn't."

To this end, backbench Tory MP and former chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) Steve Baker called for Cummings to resign. Fellow Conservative MP Simon Hoare has also called for Cummings to "consider his position" and Tory MP Damian Collins has said the government "would be better without him".

A YouGov poll on Saturday found that 68 percent of voters think Cummings broke the lockdown, while just 18 percent disagreed. By a margin of 52 percent to 28 percent they think he should resign.

Opposition parties: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party have written to Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK Cabinet Secretary, calling for an urgent inquiry into the allegations.

Published on: May 24, 2020 18:26:29