UK prime minister's aide 'might' have broken coronavirus lockdown rules, police say

Leon Neal/Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most senior political adviser might have broken coronavirus lockdown rules during a trip across the country, but authorities won’t be taking any further action, local police said Thursday, in the latest development in the controversy that has dominated British politics over the past week.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief adviser who has been credited with masterminding his successful campaigns to take Britain out of the European Union and his general election victory of 2019, drove hundreds of miles from his home in London to Durham, in the north of England, and then, two weeks later on April 12, to local tourist spot Barnard Castle with his wife and son.

Durham police said in a statement Thursday that the second trip, to the castle, “might have been a minor breach” of the rules “that would have warranted police intervention.” But, the statement said, police would not be taking retrospective action, nor would they have fined him if they had caught him at Barnard Castle.

“Had a Durham Constabulary police officer stopped Mr Cummings driving to or from Barnard Castle, the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Mr Cummings to return to the address in Durham, providing advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis,” the Durham police statement said. “Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken.”

Cummings has insisted his trip was within the rules he helped devise to prevent the spread of coronavirus, despite acknowledging there was a chance he had contracted coronavirus at the time, after senior figures in British politics whom he had close contact with, including Johnson, tested positive. At an unprecedented press conference held Monday, Cummings’ said he had made the trip to “test his eyesight,” which had been affected by his suspected bout of coronavirus.

The aide has faced growing calls to quit after reports of the trip surfaced, and he has so far defied those calls.

Johnson, too, has supported his most senior political ally, despite the growing political storm. Opposition lawmakers have accused the government of undermining their own advice, and in doing so treating “the British public with contempt” in so ardently defending one of their own.

The finding that Cummings had breached lockdown protocol that he had helped devise, despite the U.K. government’s insistence he acted within the rules, will likely add fuel to the fire in a controversy that has dominated the airwaves since a joint investigation by The Mirror and The Guardian broke the news last week.

“Boris Johnson’s unwillingness or inability to do the right thing has left the Government looking untrustworthy and unprincipled,” the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, tweeted on Thursday. “Worst of all he’s undermined the public health advice that keeps us all safe, just to keep one aide in his job. Our nation’s health must come first.”

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