Full text: Grant Shapps interviewed by Sophy Ridge on Cummings story

Below is the full text of Sophy Ridge’s interview with government minister Grant Shapps, published with thanks to Sky’s Ridge on Sunday for providing the transcript.

SOPHY RIDGE:  The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, joins us from central London, thank you very much for being on the programme, Mr Shapps. First, I’d just like to get your reaction to our interview with Steve Baker.  I’m not sure if you caught it but he is effectively the first Conservative MP to publicly call for Dominic Cummings to go, is he right?

GRANT SHAPPS: I didn’t catch the interview but, look, I think this comes down to somebody who was trying to do the best by their four-year-old child who was in danger, having both parents ill and trying to position themselves where there was some family support from younger members of that family who could drop off food and the like. There are perfectly legitimate questions to ask about these things, straightforward answers have been forthcoming and obviously I’d much rather speak to you about all the things we’re doing in transport to build this country back after coronavirus, which is what I was hoping to talk to you about this morning.

SR: Yes, somewhat derailed by the news over the last couple of days. The point Steve Baker was making on the childcare is that many of his constituents, many parents around the country have been grappling with exactly these concerns, of what to do with childcare, what to do with their families when they fall ill, and it sticks in the throat to see what many people would see as one rule for them and one rule for the elite.

GRANT SHAPPS: I think the most important thing about the guidance is it says if you are ill, make sure you self-isolate, you stay in a location. The guidance also says you have to – to paraphrase – you have to look for common sense, practical solutions particularly it refers to when you’re looking after children.  They are perfectly legitimate questions to ask and Dominic Cummings is very much in the public eye but his child and his wife much less so, and the child not at all of course, what they’ve done is gone to make sure there is a support network around them. Obviously, both parents were concerned about being ill, I think the wife was already ill, and so they have gone to somewhere which was adjacent to, but not with, his parents where both his sister and I believe a niece as well were able to bring food and take that to the door and that sort of thing, meaning that if they were both ill the child was at least getting some support.  So, I think it is perfectly sensible rational steps to try and make sure, as anybody would do as a parent, that they could look after their child and that’s basically the long and the short of this story.

SR: Okay, so I’m keen to ask you some very straightforward factual questions just to work out exactly what has happened.  So, when exactly did Dominic Cummings first show symptoms of coronavirus and what date did he make that journey from London to Durham?

GRANT SHAPPS: I don’t want to disappoint you, obviously I’m Transport Secretary so I’m expert in everything to building our infrastructure back, particularly in the post-corona world, so I don’t have all the times and dates for you but I understand that he would have travelled up there towards the end of March and stayed there, remained there for 14 days, didn’t leave the property, in isolation as per the rules and the guidance.  

SR: Okay, so that journey is 260 miles from London to Durham, that’s four and a half hours in the car with a small child and a sick wife. Did they stop at any point?

GRANT SHAPPS: You will appreciate I wasn’t with them so I can’t tell you exactly what the journey itself was like but I do know that Dominic Cummings, I saw a clip yesterday of him asking journalists to make sure they were space two metres apart, so I know he’s a stickler for those rules and what to do to make sure you’re following the two-metre ruling and the like, so I am sure they took all the necessary precautions but I’m afraid I don’t have the details, I didn’t sort of track so I haven’t got the details or the tracking of that journey.

SR: I will admit to be slightly disappointed that you don’t have the details because we did flag these questions to you before you came on the show, a really unusual step for us, something we have never really done before but we acknowledge that you are Transport Secretary, we put the questions out there on social media in the hope that you might be able to find out the answers to them. These are really important questions; they are simple factual questions and you are now coming on the programme saying you don’t know. Why not?

GRANT SHAPPS: You will appreciate, Sophy, I came on the programme and I was originally booked to talk about the transport announcements. It is perfectly legitimate to ask a whole range of questions and questions have been asked about Mr Cummings. Having said that, he has put out a statement, Downing Street has put out a statement and they have been clear that he followed the guidance that he did, what we were all supposed to do if we were ill during this period, that particular period of lockdown – remain in the same place, don’t interact with other people. He did all of those things, he looked after his young child and I don’t have details to the point of what time of day and how many stops.

SR: He didn’t stay in the same place. The household is supposed to stay in the same place if you have coronavirus. His wife was showing symptoms of coronavirus at the time. He didn’t stay in the same place.

GRANT SHAPPS: Well, he did once they were… they were locked down, they hunkered down and they stayed there for 14 days…

SR: That’s after they had travelled 260 miles.

GRANT SHAPPS: Well, if you are going to lock down you go to the place you are going to stay and, as I say, the guidance is clear that particularly where young children are involved and it actually refers to children specifically and it says, you know, this isn’t a perfect science essentially. The guidance says you want to take steps which are practical to be able to look after your children, or child in this particular case, which in their case meant having a sister or a niece who could drop off food and that’s what they did and where they remained I suppose. I think there are more stories today, I was seeing about has he travelled backwards and forwards, accusations that he then went back up to Durham again further times and I understand completely untrue. When he came back to London, which was on the 14th April, he has remained in London since and hasn’t been back to Durham so there are lots of things being said here which are completely untrue.  Actually, the basic story is pretty straightforward – husband and wife are ill, they hunker down, they look after their four-year-old and they don’t leave until they are better and they come back down to London afterwards, which would have been travelling for essential work, which is always allowed to do as well.

SR: Okay, just to be crystal clear because this is important: you are effectively saying that the two new allegations, the first that Mr Cummings travelled back up to Durham on the 19th April and the second, that he was seen by a witness apparently in Barnard Castle, thirty minutes from Durham, on the 12th April, you are going on record to say that both of those allegations are not true?

GRANT SHAPPS: I certainly know that the first one that you mentioned, the travelling back up, I know that’s not true.  He has put out a statement saying that he was in London on the 14th… 

SR: And Barnard Castle?

GRANT SHAPPS: I’m afraid I don’t know but if that date was true, it would have been outside of the 14 day lockdown period but I’m afraid I don’t have information on that but I do know it is not the case that he has travelled backwards and forwards, which seems to be a major part of the stories I saw in the papers today.

SR: Have you asked Number 10 the answers to these questions or did they just not tell you?

GRANT SHAPPS: Well, Number 10 has put out a statement or Mr Cummings has put out a statement with Number 10 answering a whole variety of points. There seems to have been a lot of confusion over this story, for example… 

SR: Answering these questions?

GRANT SHAPPS: Well, I was going to say for example there was a suggestion that the police had been involved, that was I think in the original story but I understand there was some confusion over that. The police were actually advising about some security matters, so you know, this is all very interesting and you are absolutely right to ask the questions, as I say I’m sure there’s a level of interest about it but as we build ourselves out of coronavirus, big announcements like the billion pound programme I announced yesterday to build the A66 all the way into a dual carriageway from Penrith to Scotch Corner, things that actually matter to people’s everyday lives or will do as we come out of coronavirus, obviously things that I’m an expert in and I can talk to you about and I’d like to take a bit of time to discuss today.  

SR: I’m sure it’s very disappointing to not be able to talk about the A66 as much as you like on the programme, Mr Shapps, but just to pick you up on what you just said about the police because there seems to be some confusion here.  At yesterday’s press conference you said nobody from the police had spoken to Dominic Cummings or a member of his family but since then Durham Constabulary has said that “On Tuesday March 31st our officers were made aware that Dominic Cummings had travelled from London to Durham and officers made contact the following morning by telephone.  During that conversation, Mr Cummings’ father confirmed that his son had travelled with his family from London to the north-east.”  So, who is being dishonest, you or Durham Police?

GRANT SHAPPS: So, yesterday about this specific issue, I think in fact it was Mr Cummings’ father who contacted the police and not the other way round and actually it was in reference to security advice, which you’ll appreciate the family don’t want to go into, and not about this specific issue.

SR: Okay, so when did the Prime Minister find out that Mr Cummings had travelled to Durham?

GRANT SHAPPS: Well, the viewers will probably remember, the Prime Minister during exactly the same period, was pretty ill and in fact eventually in hospital and in ICU, so I don’t think this will have been high on the Prime Minister’s agenda.

SR: I just want to come back there, because we believe that Dominic Cummings travelled to Durham on the 28th to the 29th of March when we were told that the Prime Minister, although he was showing symptoms of coronavirus and was self-isolating, that he was still leading the government and he was working from Number 10. So, were we misled about how serious the Prime Minister’s illness was at that time?

GRANT SHAPPS: I’m sorry, I’m not quite clear what you mean by that connection. We know the Prime Minister was unwell, we know he carried on working, that’s absolutely true and then he went into hospital, it is all very well documented, I think everyone knew what was going on there and then of course ended up in intensive care after that.

SR: Sorry, the point of my question, I absolutely accept that the Prime Minister became very ill but the time that we believe that Dominic Cummings made this journey to Durham, we were told that the Prime Minister was still working as usual.

GRANT SHAPPS: Oh yes, he was.

SR: So, why didn’t he know about it then? Or did he know about it?

GRANT SHAPPS: I don’t actually know whether the Prime Minister tracks every single move of Dominic Cummings. I think he knew that Dominic Cummings was ill and was self-isolating, which is exactly what he was doing with his wife and his child.  

SR: Okay, another question that we did flag to you in advance. The reason I am asking these questions is because people in this country have been following the lockdown to the letter and many of them are in really difficult situations, making incredibly difficult sacrifices for themselves and their families.  If we just look at one example, there are many more: Ismail Mohamed died without his family at his bedside on the 30th March, his parents and siblings couldn’t even attend his funeral, he was 13 years old. While that was happening, a man essentially involved in drawing up the recommendations or the rules for what people should be doing, is travelling to see his family. How is that right?

GRANT SHAPPS: I suspect nearly everyone watching knows people who have been affected and people who have died from coronavirus, I can think of nine or ten people that I know directly or indirectly and my heart goes out to everybody who has been affected by this virus and it is true, people haven’t been able to attend funerals of family and so on and so forth but I just want to be completely clear about what’s happened here. This is not Dominic Cummings went to see his parents, he was in a separate adjacent property. This is somebody who followed the guidelines by going to sort of lock down in order to be in the best place to ensure provision was made for a four-year-old who clearly would not have been able to look after himself, which the guidance makes clear you must do in this situation the thing which will look after children, for their welfare, in the best possible way which is what people would expect and any mother or father would want to do exactly that and that’s what’s happened in this situation here.  

SR: What many people would be trying to get their head around is one of the government’s great successes has been getting people to obey the rules of the lockdown and driving down the cases of this deadly virus as a result but now members of the Cabinet seem to be saying you should use your own common sense, that the rules are there for interpretation, that they are guidelines, that you should do what is right for your own family. Is saving the job of Dominic Cummings really more important than getting people to adhere to the lockdown?

GRANT SHAPPS: I want to push back on that actually, Sophy, because the absolute critical part of this is remaining in the same location whilst you go through the fourteen days of isolation which is what happened here. There is no idea of them travelling around during the period they were ill, they stayed in the same place to do that. They made sure their support network was around them but they did that and the guidance didn’t say you must only drive a mile to do that or whatever. Clearly, every family’s position will have been different through this period but look, as I said – and this obviously is important and they are perfectly legitimate questions to ask and they have also been answered I think pretty clearly and apart from the A66 there are bus and tram services that we have spent £286m to bring them back to full service which is something else I have been announcing this weekend and all these others things, I think they will actually in the end be much more significant for people watching your programme because what we need to know is how we’re going to deal with the recovery stage of this, particularly from the 1st June which is the earliest possible moment to go into Phase Two of this, coming up shortly. All of this is probably more interesting than how one family looked after their four-year-old by staying in a single location and not, as has been suggested in the newspapers, driving back and forth and back and forth. There are big issues here which matter to the country as a whole and while it’s great to get into the detail of this, I think most of those questions have been answered now.  

SR: Okay, thanks for the job tips, much appreciated. Now, one of the things of course that many people will legitimately be interested in knowing is about schools, nurseries, and whether they are actually going to be opening on June 1st. It is only eight days’ away and is something that of course affects millions of families so will schools and nurseries, some primary school age year groups and nurseries, be seeking to have children attending from the 1st June?

GRANT SHAPPS: Yes, that certainly is the plan and I think it is really important because we are in a position where children are clearly missing out on very vital and formative parts of their education, particularly in that reception year, Year One, Year Six, which are absolutely crucial moments in children’s education. We’ve seen this happen in other countries – Denmark and Germany, France – where some of the schools are going back in those places as we would do here, very cautiously, not large class sizes, taking all of the necessary precautions and elsewhere where this has been done, the infection rate has been kept the same as well so we’ve seen it work as well, there may even be over 20 countries now where there are a limited number of children back. So, I think it is important that we try to do that from 1st June and that certainly is the intention.

SR:  Thank you. Just finally, you will have drawn the shortest of short straws this weekend, you signed up to do that daily briefing yesterday from Downing Street, today’s morning TV round, hoping to talk about your transport announcement and then the Dominic Cummings story broke. Were you tempted to switch off your alarm this morning?

GRANT SHAPPS: No, Sophy, I’d miss out speaking to you. I appreciated at least a moment to talk about some of these transport announcements and our approach to this which is going to be to build our way back from coronavirus. Look, this has been a huge moment for this country and globally, we have never seen anything like it in a hundred years but how we respond now and how we build back and how we create the infrastructure, the jobs and the skills and bring this country back to life again, is going to be absolutely essential. As you say, I’d hoped to be talking about that, all of those things, through the press conference yesterday and the media interviews this morning but I appreciate you giving me a small opportunity to do that. We’re bringing back the buses and the trams and the trains, the important thing is that people avoid the rush hour, don’t go and use them unless you absolutely can’t walk, cycle or drive, because we are only able to take about a fifth of the normal passenger numbers even when we have 100% of the services back in place.

SR: Thank you and as you say, important news for people who are thinking about starting to return to work in the weeks ahead, thank you Grant Shapps.

GRANT SHAPPS: Thank you, Sophy.

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