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Dominic Cummings ‘does not regret’ and fails to apologise for actions in Downing Street statement

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummings leaves his north London home. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Dominic Cummings has sought to defend his decision to drive to County Durham despite the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, saying he does not regret his actions, and has refused to apologise.

In a highly unusual press conference in the rose garden of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s chief adviser said he made the journey because of fears over a lack of childcare if he became incapacitated with Covid-19, but also concerns about his family’s safety.

Cummings said stories suggested he had opposed lockdown and ‘did not care about many deaths’, but he told reporters: ‘The truth is that I had argued for lockdown.

‘I did not oppose it, but these stories had created a very bad atmosphere around my home, I was subjected to threats of violence, people came to my house shouting threats, there were posts on social media encouraging attacks.’

He said he was worried that ‘this situation would get worse’, and ‘I was worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home all day and often into the night while I worked in Number 10’.

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‘I thought the best thing to do in all the circumstances was to drive to an isolated cottage on my father’s farm,’ he added.

The defence of his actions comes amid furious calls for him to resign or be sacked by Mr Johnson for travelling to County Durham in March to self-isolate with his family after his wife developed coronavirus symptoms.

The adviser denied further reports which suggested he took a second trip to the North East on April 14.

He conceded that ‘reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances’, but said: ‘I don’t regret what I did.’

He added: ‘I think what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances. The rules made clear that if you are dealing with small children that can be exceptional circumstances.

‘And I think that the situation that I was in was exceptional circumstances and the way that I dealt with it was the least risk to everybody concerned if my wife and I had both been unable to look after our four-year-old.’

Cummings confirmed that he went on a ‘short drive’ to Barnard Castle because his eyesight had been affected by the disease and his wife did not want to risk the long drive back to London.

He added: ‘My wife was very worried, particularly as my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease.

‘She did not want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child given how ill I had been.

‘We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely, we drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town.

‘We did not visit the castle, we did not walk around the town.’

The former Vote Leave mastermind said he could see why people basing their opinions on media reports of his actions could be furious.

‘If you are someone sitting at home watching the media over the last three days then I think lots of people would be very angry and I completely understand that,’ he said.

But he said he hoped his explanation would allow them to see he was in a ‘very complicated, tricky situation’.

The senior aide denied he had broken the ‘spirit’ of the rules and said he had not offered his resignation to the prime minister.

He said: ‘No, I have not offered to resign. I have not considered it.

‘I think it’s reasonable to say that other people would have behaved differently, in different ways, in this whole situation.

‘But as I stress I was trying to balance lots of competing things.’

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas wrote: ‘My heart goes out to every parent making tough choices during this crisis but I’m genuinely struggling to understand why circumstances Dominic Cummings found himself in were exceptional, yet not the circumstances that saw 13yr old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab die alone in hospital.’

Chris Bryant tweeted: ‘This Barnard Castle bit is a manifest breaking of the very express instruction not to travel that weekend. It was repeated time and again. But Cummings thought he knew better.’

Peter Kyle posted: ‘If you have symptoms you stay home…you don’t go for a drive to see if your eyes work!! This is much, much worse than I had expected. Much worse. Dominic Cummings is bringing down the government right in front of our eyes.’

Acting Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey tweeted: ‘Cummings’ statement confirms he broke the guidelines. When millions kept to those rules. The PM must now terminate his contract – if he wants to regain any credibility in leading the country on dealing with the Coronavirus crisis.’

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP said Boris Johnson had ‘no option’ but to sack Dominic Cummings, and his failure to do ‘is a gross failure of leadership’.

He said: ‘What should have been a resignation statement turned out to be a botched PR exercise that changes nothing. It is now beyond doubt Dominic Cummings broke multiple lockdown rules.

‘There was no apology and no contrition from Mr Cummings for his behaviour – and now, following this unrepentant press conference, there are no excuses left for him.

‘He has done nothing but double down on the double standards he has displayed and which millions of people across the UK are furious about.’

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