Thank you for your correspondence. As you will know, I have received many emails regarding the actions of the Prime Minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings. Many of them have been critical of Mr Cummings’ actions, many have been supportive. Some have been touchingly personal, some blatantly political. Whatever view is taken, it is clear that the events have been a distraction for the Government at a time when we need to continue our response to the coronavirus emergency.
I was pleased, at his session before the Liaison Committee in Parliament yesterday, to hear the Prime Minister say on the subject that he was “sorry for the pain and anxiety felt by people”. I would like to have heard a similar sentiment expressed by Mr Cummings and feel that his delay in coming forward with an explanation has added to the Government’s difficulties.
At a human level, I can absolutely understand why Mr Cummings wanted to take his wife and young son to a place where, if they became incapacitated by the illness, there would be adequate care for a four-year-old. In the event this was not required, and Mr Cummings did not come in contact with his elderly parents. As with many things in life it is the perception as much as the facts that have caused so much controversy. As the guidelines suggest that there is an exemption for particular circumstances, much of this debate revolves around whether the circumstances surrounding Mr Cummings and his family fall into this category.
Many people understandably feel that “the exceptional circumstances” exemption was not made clear to them or that they endured very difficult circumstances in order to maintain the public health measures. I fully understand why they feel frustrated and clear communications are essential for any future changes as we emerge from the lockdown.
As for the visit to Barnard Castle, I understand Durham Police have recently issued a statement regarding their investigation and have stated they will be taking no further action. It is important to reiterate that no one in this country is above the law and that everyone is treated fairly.
The advisers that the Prime Minister chooses to employ are a matter for him. However, I note that the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, has not called directly for Mr Cummings’ sacking.
The other main issue that has concerned those who have contacted me has been the behaviour of the media particularly outside Mr Cummings’ family home. We have all seen the pictures of clear non-compliance with social distancing guidelines from those pursuing Mr Cummings for alleged non-compliance of guidelines himself. I was also appalled to see television pictures of journalists pressing the doorbell of Mr Cummings’ parents, particularly at a time when they had just lost a close relative. A free press is critical in a healthy democracy, but I do not feel it is justified in these circumstances to pursue family members and private individuals, whom have never sought public attention, in this way.
Many of those who have written to me have set out how disappointed and frustrated they feel about their own personal sacrifices, and I am deeply sorry that recent events have made this more difficult for them. I am particularly grateful to those who set out in detail the difficulties faced by their own families and I have fully reflected these views in the comments I have made to the Government.
I have received a number of emails claiming to be from “Conservative voters” but cross-referencing them with previous correspondence suggests that this is sometimes far from the truth. This is dishonest and very disappointing. There has been a clearly orchestrated campaign to try to oust Mr Cummings for other political reasons. While this is entirely permissible in a free democracy, linking it to the genuine concerns expressed by those over Covid issues, with no political axe to grind, does no justice to their deeply felt views.
There are those who are also claiming that because they believe Mr Cummings allegedly broke the guidelines, they are entitled to do so in future. To them I would make two points. Firstly, the law remains in place for all of us to obey – and, again, no one is above the law - and those who break the law should expect the authorities to take the appropriate action. Secondly, to claim that Mr Cummings acted irresponsibly and then repeat the same actions is clearly hypocritical. It may be true that coverage of this episode has made it more difficult for the Government when it comes to public health messaging, but the overriding truth is that continuing adherence to the guidelines is in the public interest for us all.
I will continue to reflect the opinions, across the spectrum, faithfully to the Government as it is in the interests of good governance to understand how the public have reacted to recent events.
As regards my advice to, and conversations with, the Prime Minister, that will remain confidential as I would no more break that confidence then I would make public any correspondence with a constituent.