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Dominic Cummings will keep his job as Boris Johnson’s top aide, the prime minister has confirmed.
The PM says he had “extensive face to face” discussions with the former Vote Leave boss and that Cummings acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”.
The decision to keep Cummings in Downing Street comes despite claims he twice defied the PM’s Covid-19 “stay at home” restrictions.
The PM is likely to face anger from the public, Labour and his own Tory backbenchers, who broke ranks on Sunday to demand Cummings go.
But Johnson gave a full-throated public show of support to his embattled aide, telling the Downing Street press conference on Sunday he “had extensive face-to-face conversations” with Cummings.
He added “I have concluded that in travelling to find the right kind of childcare, at the moment when both he and his wife were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus – and when he had no alternative – I think he followed the instincts of every father and every parent”.
“And I do not mark him down for that.”
It emerged on Friday that Cummings travelled 260 miles to Durham to self-isolate at his parents’ home in March.
Number 10 had initially defended him, saying the trip was justified as Cummings, who later tested positive for Covid-19, needed help with childcare for his four-year-old son.
Johnson also sought to defend his adviser, by saying “some” of the allegations about Cummings’ behaviour during self-isolation were “palpably false”.
He said: “Though there have been many other allegations about what happened when he was in self-isolation and thereafter, some of them palpably false, I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally and with integrity and with the overwhelming aim of stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives.”
He went on: “I can totally get why people might feel so confused and so offended by the idea that it is one thing for people here and another thing for others.
“But really having looked at what happened, having looked at his intentions and what he was trying to do for the good of his family, I really think most people will understand what he was doing and, above all, what he did – if you look at the measures that he took – they were designed to stop the spread of the virus.
“I think that he, at all times, behaved responsibly and legally.”
He did acknowledge, however, the damage the allegations may have done to the government.
He said the “big question” that was being asked was “is this government asking you – the people, the public – to do one thing, while senior people here in Government do something else?”
“Have we been asking you to make sacrifices, to obey social distancing – stay at home – while some people have been basically flouting those rules and endangering lives.”
He said his conversations with Cummings today were “because I take this matter so seriously”.
Opposition MPs gave their verdict on Johnson’s call on Twitter.
Former Lib Dem leader said Johnson had “just caused colossal, possibly fatal, damage to his Conservative administration […] but he has also undone any attempt to save lives by effective public health messaging”.
Green MP Caroline Lucas, meanwhile, tweeted: “Unbelievable – PM says Cummings has acted ‘responsibly, legally and with integrity’.
“In fact he’s acted arrogantly, illegally and with gross irresponsibility.
“Even by PM’s own abysmal standards, this must surely be the lowest point.”
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