LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted calls on Saturday from opposition parties to sack adviser Dominic Cummings after he travelled 400 km (250 miles) to northern England while his wife showed COVID-19 symptoms.
Cummings, who masterminded the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union during the Brexit referendum, travelled to Durham in late March, when a strict lockdown was already in place.
Johnson’s office said Cummings made the journey to ensure his young son could be properly cared for, as his wife was ill with COVID-19 and there was a “high likelihood” that Cummings would himself become unwell.
“I behaved reasonably and legally,” Cummings told reporters outside his house after telling them to stay 2 metres apart in accordance with government guidelines.
When a reporter said his behaviour did not look good, Cummings said: “Who cares about good looks – it’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.”
Ministers voiced support for the senior adviser.
“I can tell you that the PM provides Mr Cummings with his full support,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told reporters, adding that he did not know when the prime minister found out about the journey.
Downing Street said Cummings’ “actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines”.
Johnson’s most senior ministers, including Michael Gove, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and finance minister Rishi Sunak, also defended Cummings.
But opposition parties called for Johnson to sack Cummings and said the lockdown rules made clear that those with suspected COVID-19 symptoms should isolate with their whole household.
“The prime minister’s chief adviser appears to believe that it is one rule for him and another for the British people,” the Labour Party said. “We are still unclear who knew about this decision and when, whether this was sanctioned by the prime minister.”
Just a few days before Cummings’ journey, Johnson imposed a lockdown in the United Kingdom and asked people to stay at home. He said on March 23 that people “should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home”.
Shortly after Johnson announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, Cummings sprinted out of Downing Street on March 27 and developed symptoms on the weekend of March 28-29.
Government guidelines say that those who have COVID-19 or suspect they have it should self-isolate for at least seven days along with their household and not leave their house for any reason.
The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats called for Cummings to be sacked.
Other prominent figures have resigned after breaking lockdown rules.
Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson quit as a member of the government’s scientific advisory group after he was visited at home by his girlfriend. Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, stepped down after she was caught making two trips to her second home.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Angus MacSwan, John Stonestreet and James Drummond