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Thu, 9 July 2020

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Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt says Dominic Cummings row has ‘undermined public health messages’

Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt says Dominic Cummings row has ‘undermined public health messages’

Penny Mordaunt said she was ‘very sorry’ for the ‘scenes’ of the past few days.

4 min read

The row over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham during lockdown has “undermined key public health messages”, Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt has said.

In an email sent to constituents, the paymaster general said there were “inconsistencies” in the top advisers’ account of the events.

And she said she was “very sorry” that the “scenes of the last few days” had dented public confidence.

Although Ms Mordaunt does not go so far as to call on Mr Cummings to go, she is the most senior member of the Government to openly criticise him.

She said: “Despite Mr Cummings’ statement yesterday, I am personally still not clear of the facts. There are some inconsistiencies in his account iof events and the reasons behind it. 

“I am not clear about when he would have been symptomatic and on what dates he should have been in isolation. Or whether it was appropriate he drove home at the time he did.”

Ms Mordaunt adds: “There is no doubt he took risks - refuelling at a petrol station is a risk to oneself and to others, which presumably he did.

“I understand there may have been other issues which would have made other options to care for his child in London impossible. 

“What is clear is that the scenes of the last few days will have undermined key public health messages. I deeply regret this and am very sorry for it.”

Her intervention, first reported by The Guardian, came as Boris Johnson told MPs it was time to “move on” from the focus on the 250-mile trip, which Mr Cummings has said was necessary to ensure his son had access to childcare while he and his wife suffered coronavirus.

Appearing before the Liaison Committee, Mr Johnson batted away calls for Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to launch an inquiry into the affair, saying he was “not certain right now that an inquiry into that matter is a very good use of official time”.

Scores of Tory MPs have already broken ranks to openly criticise Mr Cummings, with some calling for him to resign or be sacked - while minister Douglas Ross quit the Government on Tuesday in opposition to the top adviser's actions.

Former Chancellor Sajid Javid - who resigned earlier this year after Number 10 demanded a merger of the top advisory teams in Downing Street and the Treasury - said Mr Cummings’ journey to County Durham had been “neither necessary or justified”.

In his own letter to constituents, seen by the Bromsgrove Standard, Mr Javid said: “Mr Cummings has argued he acted within the letter of the law.

“As a father myself, I also appreciate the fear and uncertainty one can feel when the safety of your child is potentially at stake.

“That being said I do not believe Mr Cummings’ journey to County Durham to isolate on his family’s estate was necessary or justified.

“I remain unconvinced his visit to Barnard Castle could be considered reasonable.

“I was also deeply concerned by his decision to return to Downing Street directly after coming into contact with a family member who was ill, potentially with Coronavirus.”

CUMMINGS ‘A LUCKY CHARM’

Meanwhile former Cabinet minister Amber Rudd said she believed Mr Cummings should quit because he was “making things worse” at a time of national crisis.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston programme on Wednesday night, the ex-home secretary said: “People have been great during the lockdown, in a really difficult period, they have complied. 

“And now they're confused, and that makes them angry, and I think that'll have consequences. So when he thinks as any of us working in government must, am I adding here, am I helping, he can only conclude that his presence is making things worse at a time when we're already in a crisis.”

Asked why Mr Johnson had not already sacked his senior aide, Ms Rudd said: “Well I think that Boris can see in Dominic, a winner. 

“I mean, Boris has done very well in terms of winning Vote Leave, then winning his own competition in the Conservative Party and then of course the election last year. 

“And Dominic has been absolutely key in doing that so I think he sees him as like a kind of talisman, a lucky charm, and that he needs him going forward.”

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