28 May 2020

The unanswered questions on Dominic Cummings at the Downing Street briefing

28 May 2020

In a bid to “move on” from the continuing row over his chief aide Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister declined to answer questions on the issue at the daily briefing in Downing Street on Thursday

Mr Cummings is accused of breaking lockdown rules by travelling from London to County Durham, but he has denied any wrongdoing and has received the full backing of Boris Johnson.

Durham Constabulary said on Thursday Mr Cummings may have committed “a minor breach” of coronavirus lockdown rules when he drove the 50-mile round trip to Barnard Castle, but added it did not intend to take “retrospective action”.

Later on Thursday, Mr Johnson avoided answering questions about Mr Cummings and stepped in when questions were asked of his chief medical and scientific advisers, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance respectively, to stop them “being dragged into a political argument”.

Here are the questions that went unanswered.

– “If one of your [Mr Johnson’s] most senior team was not paying proper attention to the rules why should anyone else? And to the doctors – is that the kind of example you want people to follow?”

Mr Johnson refused to answer the question from the BBC, which referenced how Durham police would have sent Mr Cummings home had officers seen him at Barnard Castle.

Coronavirus – Thu May 28, 2020 (PA Media)

He subsequently stopped Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick from answering the question directed at them.

Mr Johnson said: “I’ve said quite a lot on this matter already and I also noticed that Durham police said that they were going to take no action and that the matter was closed.

“I intend to draw a line under the matter.”

He continued: “I know that you’ve asked Chris and Patrick, but I’m going to interpose myself if I may and protect them from what I think would be an unfair and unnecessary attempt to ask a political question.

“It’s very, very important that our medical officer and scientific advisers do not get dragged into what most people would recognise as fundamentally a political argument.”

– Did Sir Patrick and Prof Whitty “fear compliance with rules will be reduced as a result?”

Mr Johnson was told by ITV that a number of scientific advisers to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have said that Mr Cummings’ behaviour risked more people not complying with social distancing rules.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty (PA Media)

One of those advisers, social psychologist Professor Stephen Reicher, who is on the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours which passes its advice to Sage, said earlier this week that Mr Johnson had “trashed” their advice.

In response to the question, Mr Johnson repeated his earlier statement of wanting to protect the advisers from “being dragged into political controversy” and described the matter as a “distraction”.

“We want to get some very clear and simple messages across to the British public,” Mr Johnson said.

“What they want to hear is what we are doing to tackle coronavirus and what the plan is.

“We’ve announced a huge amount today and I think people need to focus on those messages.”

– “Are you [Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick] entirely comfortable with the Prime Minister telling you that you can’t answer questions about Dominic Cummings? And if you can’t give a verbal answer a nod or a shake of the head will suffice. Is there anything else the Prime Minister has told you not to answer on?”

The advisers gave short responses to the question posed by Sky News.

Prof Whitty said: “I can assure you that the desire not to get pulled into politics is far stronger on the part of Sir Patrick and me than it is in the Prime Minister.”

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (PA Media)

Sir Patrick replied: “I’m a civil servant, I’m politically neutral, I don’t want to get involved in politics at all.”

– “Would you [Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick] advise motorists to go on a 50-mile round trip to test their eyesight?”

The question by the Sun newspaper referenced Mr Cummings’ claims that he drove to Barnard Castle with his family to test his eyesight after it was affected by Covid-19.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and Moorfields Eye Hospital said on Tuesday that there is little evidence of a link between Covid-19 and eyesight problems.

The question was ignored.

– “Can you [Mr Johnson] bring yourself to utter any words of criticism of how he [Mr Cummings] has acted?”

With the Prime Minister not intending to sack Mr Cummings, the Belfast News Letter asked whether Mr Johnson would criticise his adviser’s behaviour amid concerns some people would dismiss lockdown measures due to his actions.

Again, the question went unanswered.

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