Labour demands clarity on implications of Cummings defence for policing

Labour has asked the government for clarity on the implications that the Prime Minister’s defence of the coronavirus lockdown trip taken by Dominic Cummings could have for policing.

Boris Johnson stood by his senior aide at the coronavirus press conference on Sunday, saying Cummings had “acted responsibly, legally and with integrity” when driving from London to Durham with his wife who had Covid-19 symptoms.

The Prime Minister described Cummings as having “very severe childcare difficulties” and said he “followed the instincts of every father and every parent”, adding: “I do not mark him down for that.”

In a letter to Priti Patel today, Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds has raised questions such as whether guidance to police forces has been updated regarding travel restrictions for people experiencing symptoms of the virus.

NHS guidance states that if you or someone you live with has symptoms, you should “not leave your home for any reason”. But the government now appears to have clarified that childcare needs are an exception.

Thomas-Symonds has asked whether, if people are travelling by car “in the expectation that they may require childcare at some point”, the police will not be empowered to issue fines to them.

Labour has also requested that details of communications between the Durham Constabulary and government officials or ministers since May 21st be made public.

After the Durham Constabulary said it had spoken to the Cummings family, 10 Downing Street initially denied it – but later confirmed the conversation, though specified it was about “security issues” rather than self-isolation.

Keir Starmer has slammed the Prime Minister’s decision not to take action against Cummings, saying it was “an insult to sacrifices made by the British people”. The Labour leader said he would have sacked the aide.

Labour has written to the Cabinet Secretary calling for an urgent inquiry into the matter to “reassure the public that its most senior figures have been adhering to the same rules as everyone else”.

Below is the full text of the letter from Nick Thomas-Symonds to Priti Patel.

Dear Priti,

The recent revelations regarding the actions of the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser, Mr Dominic Cummings, are deeply worrying.

As you will be aware, Mr Cummings’ decision to travel over 260 miles with a family member experiencing clear symptoms of Coronavirus has caused deep concerns. This is both as a result of the public health risks this posed, and the stark difference from the way many families have addressed such challenges through this crisis.

As a result, I would be grateful if you could address the following questions:

– Has guidance to police forces now been updated regarding travel restrictions for people with coronavirus symptoms and those in a household with someone experiencing symptoms?

– If people who are travelling in a car in the expectation that they may require child care at some point, can you confirm that police will not be empowered to issue Fixed Penalty Notices to them?

– Can you further confirm which modes of transport people are allowed to use when they are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus or are in a household with someone else experiencing symptoms?

– If using cars, are people in either of these situations allowed to break their journey for comfort breaks at public spaces, such as a service station or rest point?

– Can you provide assurance that Mr Cummings had put in place arrangements with police and other emergency services to ensure that were assistance needed en route that response staff would attend with appropriate PPE?

– Can you outline in detail what the Prime Minister meant when he said that people are allowed to follow their “instincts” when seeking to isolate and how this supersedes the very clear public health guidance, which says:

“Essential travel does not include visits to second homes…whether for isolation purposes or holidays. People must remain in their primary residence. Not taking these steps puts additional pressure on communities and services that are already at risk.”

– How many Fixed Penalty Notices have been issued by police forces where those apprehended have used the need to access childcare as a mitigation?

– Can you make public details of any communications between the Durham Constabulary and government officials and/or ministers since Thursday 21 May?

As you know, police officers have put themselves at extraordinary risk to keep people safe during this crisis, whilst also working with great skill to interpret and explain public health legislation. The confusion and misinformation caused by the government’s response to these revelations appears to make this work even more difficult.

I find this deeply concerning and will do all I can to try and support the police’s efforts by requesting greater clarity on issue.

I look forward to your urgent response.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP
Shadow Home Secretary

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