Dominic Raab has said he had no idea Dominic Cummings was self-isolating with coronavirus outside London, even though this coincided with Raab being the stand-in prime minister during Boris Johnson’s illness.
The foreign secretary, who is also Johnson’s effective deputy, said it was possible he only knew about Cummings’ trip with his family to Durham when he first read about it in the media.
“I’m not sure,” Raab said when asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show when he first knew about the 260-mile journey. “But to be honest with you, when the story broke was when I first became aware of the detail of it.”
Raab took over from Johnson when the prime minister was moved into intensive care with serious coronavirus symptoms on 6 April, when Cummings and his family were still in Durham.
Asked what he knew, Raab said: “I just knew he was out of action because he had come down with coronavirus and given the scenario we were in, with the prime minister taken ill, and very seriously ill as it later emerged, I was just focused with the government and with a great cabinet team on making sure we continued to focus relentlessly on dealing with the virus.
“I mean I knew Dom was unwell and he was out of action, and obviously I wanted him and the prime minister to get well soon, but I wasn’t focused on his movements at all and I wasn’t aware of them.”
Asked if that meant he first learned of the trip when the Guardian and Daily Mirror broke the story, Raab said: “I wouldn’t be able to say with any precision, I want to be able to give you a really accurate, reliable answers, but at the time, I wasn’t aware of it except to know that he was unwell, out of action.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t enquire as to his own personal circumstances. I was just getting on with the job.”
His comments came as fresh questions emerged about one aspect of Cummings’ time in Durham, with witnesses saying they saw Johnson’s chief adviser walking around Barnard Castle on 12 April, Easter Sunday.
Cummings’ 60-mile round trip from his father’s estate in Durham to the town, with his wife and son, is already central to claims he broke lockdown rules, which have brought widespread calls for him to resign.
In his highly unusual Downing Street press conference last Monday, Cummings said he took the trip to see if his eyes had properly recovered from Covid-19 so he could drive back to London, and that he and his family only stopped briefly.
However, the Sunday Times said two more witnesses say they spotted Cummings, his wife and young son. One said she saw them walking around the town, something Cummings said they did not do. Another said they saw him walking on a river path.