Thank you for contacting me about the recent events regarding Dominic Cummings.
As you may imagine, in the past week I have received many emails on this subject, both in support of Mr Cummings – and those who wish to see him resign or be dismissed. There has been much anger, frustration, and a lot of questions that I will endeavour to answer in this response.
Whilst some of you requested a personal response, that would direct me away from matters that actually assist people with their most urgent situations. So, I hope you’ll understand my priorities must be working personally and directly with individuals, businesses and our local authorities during this very difficult time.
Firstly, I totally understand the annoyance that some expressed regarding the events with Dominic. The Coronavirus outbreak has meant we have all experienced our own hardships, inconveniences and struggles as we have endured the lockdown. As many of you will know, I lost my dad in January and have not been able to visit my grieving mum throughout. Our family has lost close personal friends and we’ve not been able to mourn with their loved ones. Every single household has made sacrifices and too many have endured pain that cannot be amply expressed in words. Sacrifices will continue to be made by all of us, as it’s the only way to beat the virus until treatment or a vaccine becomes readily available.
The UK is playing a huge part, investing more than any other country and UK companies are leading - put simply, nobody will be safe until everybody is safe from Covid-19.
The reports of anyone breaking the lockdown rules provokes an understandable backlash. To date Cumbria Police have issued 436 Fixed Penalty Notices under the emergency health regulations.
In relation to Dominic Cummings, I have taken the time to consider the facts of the event – and listened closely to the public statement that Dominic made in the garden of 10 Downing Street on Monday. I have subsequently read the statement issued by Durham Constabulary, which provides much needed independent clarity to the situation.
As someone who was placed in those particular circumstances, I believe he took a pragmatic and risk-averse approach, which was within the exception of the guidelines to ensure there would be childcare for his 4-year-old son should he and his wife both become incapacitated by ill health.
While Dominic’s wife was falling ill with suspected Coronavirus, he worried that should he subsequently fall ill, they would not be able to care for their young son. They therefore sought support in the event they would not be able to provide this care.
They decided to stay at an isolated cottage on his father’s farm in Durham, the cottage is over 50 metres away from any other building and they did not come into contact with anyone at any time. This was close to where his two nieces were staying, who could care for the 4-year-old child if needs be.
I think it’s important to add that in his risk assessment the methodology was to prevent harm to his son, to protect the public from infection and to continue to support the Government’s vast efforts in policy and financial terms to protect livelihoods and save lives, whilst his own boss, the Prime Minister became increasingly incapacitated himself.
Moreover, as Dominic laid out in his statement, following the false reports in the media that he opposed the lockdown - his London home became a target and attacks on his home were encouraged on social media. This also informed the decision to leave London, so he and his family could isolate somewhere safely. I’m sure we have all now seen the hordes of paparazzi which frequent his home on an almost permanent basis. As a parent myself, albeit of older children, I would feel incredibly vulnerable and scared for my family’s safety if this was happening to me.
As for the legality of this journey, the trip to County Durham was permitted, under Regulation 6 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, which sets out the guidelines for the lockdown. Caring for a child is one of the exceptions.
This was set out the day after the lockdown began, on 24th March, when the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jenny Harries clarified that childcare was an exceptional circumstance. She said, “Clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance”.
It is important to recognise that the police have clarified in their statement that this trip to Durham did not break the rules of the lockdown. They have said that “Durham Constabulary does not consider that by locating himself in Durham that Mr Cummings committed an offence contrary to regulation 6 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020”.
According to his statement, Dominic and his family observed all necessary social distancing at all times – and therefore did not put anyone else in harm’s way or spread Coronavirus.
Many have asked if I would have personally done the same, I would not have taken the same decision, as thankfully my trusted network of family and friends is right here in Copeland. Whereas Dominic, who is from Durham but lives in London, it is different because he does not have the same local network of family and friends available for childcare. As I have mentioned, his home in London had also become a frequent target.
Then there is the second element that has been the subject of much of the correspondence I have received, the trip to Barnard Castle. During this time, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock, and the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty were all suffering with Coronavirus. The Prime Minister was critically ill and was referred to the Intensive Care Unit.
With so many key figures in Government missing, Dominic intended to go back to work to aid the Government’s response to Coronavirus. He had played a huge part in developing policies at a pace and with agility never experienced by any Government, certainly in peace-time Britain. It is important to note that he was given the clearance to return to work by medical professionals and this was 15 days after displaying symptoms himself (the guidelines required 14 days).
While this would necessitate a drive back to London, he had experienced some periods of eye strain. Eye strain is not a designated symptom of Coronavirus, but much scientific evidence has shown a correlation between eye strain and having Coronavirus.
As his trip back to London would entail near 300 miles - he set out on a test drive for 30 miles, around 10% of his total journey, to evaluate his ability to drive the long-distance journey safely.
According to his statement, Dominic pulled up after 30 miles near Barnard Castle, they did not visit or walk around the grounds of the castle. They pulled up on an isolated area outside.
Whilst they were out of the vehicle, they did not come into contact with anyone and therefore did not risk spreading Coronavirus.
Durham Constabulary have said in their statement regarding this ‘trip’ to Barnard Castle that “There is no intention to take retrospective action”. I now consider that all the facts are in the open - both from Dominic Cummings himself and importantly from the police. They do not wish to take any further action.
Working as I do in No. 10 with the PM, I’ve met and spoken with Dominic on many occasions and find him to be polite, thoughtful and very good at his job. He is particularly passionate about the levelling up agenda and recognises our potential in Cumbria, and the policies which will drive change and realise much more opportunity, especially in manufacturing, science, nuclear and farming sectors. He and I share that ambition for the highly skilled, innovative parts of the UK to be fully supported - that financial and policy intervention is needed more now than ever before.
From what I’ve seen, Dominic is not an extrovert character, nor does he demonstrate the flair of charisma so predominant in the Prime Minister, but I do believe he is at heart, a kind, considerate and decent man with our country’s priorities as his priority. I know that he will be crippled inside (as anyone would be) along with his wife and family at being catapulted into a hate storm for making a judgment call, which he genuinely felt was right at the time.
Above all, I feel that the events surrounding Dominic Cummings have been an unhelpful distraction to our fight in beating Coronavirus. Our fight against the disease is rapidly evolving and improving by the day - and at a time when it is so important for the Government to effectively communicate new developments - such as the new track and trace system.
I therefore believe it is best that now the police have clarified events that we move on and put the full focus on the war against this virus.
When people ask why they should now follow the Government’s advice - it is quite simply because that is how we will beat this dreadful virus. Our success will stand or fall on national collaboration and every single person has a huge part to play.
I hope the reasoning laid out in this letter has answered some of your questions and queries. I shall continue to work with every individual, organisation, business and authority as we move towards recovery and reinstatement.
The risk of a second peak is still very real and whilst every effort is being made to develop both treatments and a global vaccine, neither are inevitable nor will be available soon. Testing and contact tracing with social distancing and personal hygiene is our only tool in the toolbox to prevent thousands of lives being lost prematurely and livelihoods being damaged beyond repair.
My team and I remain determined to deliver on the priories for Copeland and now more than ever, I think we must work together.
Member of Parliament for Copeland