The Labour Party has called for an urgent inquiry into the 260-mile trip from London to Durham undertaken by the Prime Minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings during the coronavirus lockdown.
It was revealed by The Mirror and The Guardian on Friday evening that Cummings travelled from London to Durham with his wife, who had coronavirus symptoms, and their child, while the government advised people to “stay at home”.
According to official medical advice, members of the public should self-isolate at home for seven days when Covid-19 symptoms begin and household members should isolate for 14 days.
At the latest coronavirus press conference, Dr Jenny Harries said that the guidance advises: “If you’re symptomatic, stay at home, take yourself out of society with your family and stay there unless there is an extreme risk to life”.
But cabinet ministers including Dominic Raab, Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Suella Braverman have come out in defence of Cummings. Grant Shapps said Boris Johnson has also offered his “full support”.
In a letter to Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, Labour’s Rachel Reeves has described it as “vital that the government can reassure the public that its most senior figures have been adhering to the same rules as everyone else”.
Reeves has criticised 10 Downing Street explanations for Cummings’ behaviour on the basis that they “raised more questions than they answer”, including as to whether the Prime Minister was aware of the journey to Durham.
Below is the full text of the letter Rachel Reeves sent to Sir Mark Sedwill.
Dear Sir Mark
I am writing to request the Cabinet Office launch an urgent investigation into allegations Dominic Cummings broke the coronavirus lockdown rules.
The British people have made important and painful sacrifices to support the national effort, including being away from family in times of need. It is therefore vital that the government can reassure the public that its most senior figures have been adhering to the same rules as everyone else.
The timeline of events that have been reported following a joint investigation by The Mirror and The Guardian would suggest Mr Cummings may have breached (i) the law on restriction on movement, (ii) the government’s own guidance on self-isolation and (iii) official NHS advice.
I am aware that, in responding to these reports, a spokesperson for Number 10 said earlier today:
“Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.
“His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.
“At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”
Taking each section of this statement in turn:
Claim: “Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.”
Response: On 16 March 2020, the Prime Minister advised the British public to “stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel”. On 23 March, he then instructed the British public to stay at home except for certain “very limited purposes”[i].
These rules were enshrined in law on 26 March:
“During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.”[ii]
In addition to this, the government’s guidance published on 23 March advised that if you were experiencing symptoms of coronavirus you must stay at home for 7 days and if you live with someone who has symptoms, self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started:
“If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.”[iii]
The NHS advice also states that: “If you or someone you live with has symptoms of coronavirus: do not leave your home for any reason – if you need food or medicine, order it online or by phone, or ask someone to deliver it to your home; do not have visitors in your home – including friends and family; do any exercise at home – you can use your garden, if you have one.”[iv]
The actions of Dominic Cummings would appear to be inconsistent with official advice.
Claim: “His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.”
Response: I understand Number 10 sources are pointing to Dominic Cummings and his wife needing childcare. However, it does not appear to be within the government’s guidelines – or in the spirit of the guidelines – that a 260-mile trip can be justified, including the risk this could have brought to spreading the infection from London to another part of the country.
Claim: “At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”
Response: This statement directly contradicts the statement from Durham Constabulary, which was reported last night:
“On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.
“Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.
“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.”[v]
I remind you of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, which states that advisers must “comply with the law and uphold the administration of justice.” [vi]
I am sure you agree that senior officials and political figures play a critical role in ensuring the British public continue to have confidence in the government’s approach to tackling the current crisis.
By undermining this confidence, it undermines our collective effort to beat the coronavirus and the sacrifices millions of us have had to make. The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser.
The Labour Party has been calling for a clear explanation from Number 10 about this matter since the allegations were reported last night, but one has not been forthcoming. In fact, the explanations that have been given have raised more questions than they answer, including:
- When was the Prime Minister first made aware that Dominic Cummings was experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus?
- When was the Prime Minister first made aware about Dominic Cummings decision to travel to Durham? Was this decision approved by the Prime Minister? And if so, on what grounds?
- Were any other members of staff in Number 10 informed of Dominic Cummings decision to travel to Durham?
- Did Dominic Cummings seek advice from any part of government, either prior to or subsequent from, his trip to Durham on either the legality of his actions or whether he was in full adherence to the rules in place during his trip to Durham?
- Why did Number 10’s official spokesperson tell journalists that Dominic Cummings was “at home” on 31 March, the same day Durham police were made aware he was in Durham?[vii]
- On how many occasions has Dominic Cummings travel to and from Durham since the lockdown was introduced?
- Does the Cabinet Office believe Dominic Cummings’s behaviour has breached official government guidelines?
- Does the Chief Medical Officer believe Dominic Cummings behaviour breached official government and NHS guidelines?
- Are you satisfied that the official statement from Number 10 in respect to whether the Durham police spoke to Mr Cummings’ family is correct and the Durham Police are incorrect?
- Has Dominic Cummings behaviour breached the code of conduct for special advisers?
I hope you will agree to this urgent investigation and that it can be carried out as swiftly as possible.
I am making this letter available to the public and copying it to the Prime Minister and the Director General of Propriety and Ethics.
Rachel Reeves MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster