The Breakfast Briefing: Boris Johnson wants the public to make up their own mind on Dominic Cummings - but what if they already have?
Dominic Cummings returns home after giving a statement in Downing Street.
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Boris Johnson is an unconventional politician, but sometimes he reverts to type. “Did I regret what has happened? Yes of course I do regret the confusion and the anger and the pain that people feel.” A classic of the non-apology genre, the PM’s tetchy press conference appearance last night capped off a day in which all the key players in the Dominic Cummings drama doubled down.
Shunning follow-up questions from the press, Johnson stood by his view that Cummings had acted “reasonably, legally and as I said yesterday, with integrity and with care for his family and for others”. It would, he said, “be wrong of me to try to comment further”. Journalists were “formidable”, their questions were “very good” - but they weren’t getting answered. Move on.
Cummings’ own Rose Garden appearance was anything but conventional.
At risk of being drowned out by a blaring horn, the embattled adviser laid out in meticulous detail the reasons for his 250-mile trip to Durham. Attempting to give the public an idea of the painstaking decisions he faced over the welfare of his son, Cummings confirmed the central points of the Mirror and The Guardian’s reporting - while also managing to squeeze in digs at the “extremely regrettable” and “wrong” media coverage. The senior adviser came closest to contrition, albeit over the process and not the substance, when he said he “completely” understood those who thought it was “a mistake” not to speak to the PM about his trip sooner.
The PM’s big announcement on shop reopenings - most stores can reopen from June 15 if they can prove they are ‘Covid Secure’ - couldn’t help but feel like a hurried attempt to shift attention away from the row.
No sooner had Cummings finished speaking than a clearly concerted bid to shore him up got underway. Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick tweeted: “He acted in the best interests of his sick wife and young child. He put no one else at risk. He clearly did what he believed was reasonable and within the rules.” MPs who hadn’t yet broken cover to call on Cummings to go pushed the “reasonable” and “time to move on” message hard (albeit with a personal flavour: Andrew Griffith told the media to “crawl back under rocks”). The PM’s big announcement on shop reopenings - most stores can reopen from June 15 if they can prove they are ‘Covid Secure’ - couldn’t help but feel like a hurried attempt to shift attention away from the row.
In batting away further questions on the saga, Johnson implored the public to “make up their own minds” about Cummings. Number 10 will be calculating that what voters saw yesterday was a caring father who made difficult decisions in exactly the “extreme circumstances” allowed for in the lockdown rules. But if the public side with Labour’s take that what yesterday really showed was that it’s “one rule for Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, another for everybody else”, the consequences not just for the Government, but for the entire coronavirus lockdown itself, could be dire.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING TODAY
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Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove (Dominic Cummings’ old boss, remember) has the broadcast round, including the 8.10 slot on the Today programme. He’s already told BBC Breakfast that the first he knew about the trip was “when I saw the newspapers break the story on Friday evening”, adding: “When I read the story I was convinced there would be an explanation from Dominic because I know that he’s a man of honour and integrity.”
Labour’s National Executive Committee meets later to choose who will replace Jennie Formby as general secretary. A reminder of the candidates: David Evans, Byron Talor, Andrew Fisher, Neena Gill, Karin Chrstiansen and Amanda Martin. Expect to hear something this afternoon.
The Office for National Statistics will publish its weekly update on excess deaths at 9.30am.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon takes the usual coronavirus press conference North of the Border at 12.30pm.
The Number 10 press conference is expected to be back at its regular time of 5pm, but who can tell?
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