The prime minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings has said he does not regret driving 260 miles from London during the coronavirus lockdown.
He revealed he had not told Boris Johnson when he decided to take his family to County Durham after his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms.
Mr Cummings said he believed he was acting “reasonably” and within the law.
Mr Johnson said he regretted “the confusion, anger and pain” felt and people “needed to hear” from his aide.
He added that Mr Cummings had acted “reasonably” and with “integrity and care for others”.
‘Not different rules’
Speaking in a specially organised press conference in the Downing Street rose garden, Mr Cummings said he had not considered resigning over the controversy caused by his trip north on 27 March.
But he said he should have made a statement earlier, adding: “I don’t think I am so different and that is one rule for me and one rule for other people.”
Mr Cummings’s statement – a highly unusual event for a ministerial adviser – came as the UK government said the number of deaths among people who have tested positive for coronavirus, in all settings, had risen by 121 to 36,914.
Meanwhile, in the regular Downing Street press briefing, Mr Johnson said outdoor markets and car showrooms in England could reopen from 1 June, with all other shops expected to open from 15 June.
‘Test his eyesight’
During his statement, Mr Cummings said he had:
Driven his wife and son from London to County Durham on 27 March, after his wife developed coronavirus symptoms;
Stayed at a cottage on his parents’ farm;
Driven around 30 miles from his family farm to the town of Barnard Castle on Easter Sunday (12 April) – 15 days after he had displayed symptoms – in an effort to test his eyesight and readiness to drive back to London;;
Taken his family back to London on 13 April;
Many people, including some Conservative MPs, have called for Mr Cummings’s dismissal, despite the prime minister giving a statement earlier on Sunday in support of his chief adviser.
In his statement, Mr Cummings said his family home in London had been the target of protests – and he did not have access to childcare in London if he and his wife both fell ill.
His sister and his nieces, who lived in Durham, had offered to look after his four-year-old son if necessary – although this was not needed.
Mr Cummings said he had isolated in a cottage around 50 metres from his parents’ home but did not have any contact with his parents, who are in their 70s, other than shouted conversations.
He added that, while he had not told the prime minister – who himself caught coronavirus – before he drove north: “I did actually speak to him later but neither of us can remember what was said because we were both in pretty bad shape.”
Mr Cummings also said his son had suffered a “bad fever” on 2 April. He had been taken to hospital by ambulance but had not tested positive for coronavirus, and Mr Cummings had picked him up by car after an overnight stay because there were “no taxis”.
On his trip to Barnard Castle, a popular tourist location, he said: “I wasn’t sightseeing.”
Mr Cummings insisted he had not stopped during the 260-mile journey to Durham but may have pulled in on the return to London to get petrol.
And he believed he had kept to government guidelines, which tell people who develop Covid symptoms to stay in their homes, because they also allow for some leeway in “extreme” circumstances.
He said he was not surprised that lots of people were angry about his actions but “it was a complicated, tricky situation”.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the hour-long Downing Street press conference had been “painful to watch”.
“He clearly broke the rules,” she said. “The prime minister has failed to act in the national interest. He should have never allowed this situation with a member of his staff.”
Acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey urged Mr Johnson to sack Mr Cummings, adding: “His refusal to have the decency to apologise is an insult to us all. It reveals the worst of his elitist arrogance.”