Downing Street on Thursday termed the row over the prime minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings as ‘closed’ after the Durham police said he ‘might have’ broken some lockdown rules during his controversial trip there when the official advice was to stay home.
The row, which dominated public discourse for several days, appeared to lose much momentum after Prime Minister Boris Johnson consistently backed his aide despite over 40 Conservative MPs and others demanding his resignation.
The Durham police said there was no breach in Cummings travelling from London to Durham in end-March when he and his wife had coronavirus symptoms, but their later trip from Durham to Barnard Castle would have been a “minor breach”.
In the UK’s criminal justice system, the police usually uses terms such as ‘might have’ to express opinion in a case, since bringing charges and reaching a conviction are a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts.
The police said in a lengthy statement: “Durham Constabulary have examined the circumstances surrounding the journey to Barnard Castle…and have concluded that there might have been a minor breach of the Regulations that would have warranted police intervention”.
“Durham Constabulary view this as minor because there was no apparent breach of social distancing. Had a Durham Constabulary police officer stopped Cummings driving to or from Barnard Castle, the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Cummings to return to the address in Durham, providing advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis”.
“Had this advice been accepted by Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken…Therefore Durham Constabulary will take no further action in this matter and has informed Cummings of this decision”.
Critics interpreted the statement as substantiating Cummings breaching rules, and reiterated their demand that he resign or be dismissed.
However, the prime minister’s spokesperson said: “The police have made clear they are taking no action against Cummings over his self-isolation and that going to Durham did not breach the regulations. The prime minister has said he believes Cummings behaved reasonably and legally given all the circumstances and he regards this issue as closed.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “I’ve seen what Durham Police have said. Obviously that, on the face of it, is inconsistent with what the prime minister said. And that presents him with a problem. But, frankly, he’s too weak to do anything about it”.
He added: “I don’t think he’s going to do anything because he cannot, it seems, continue without his adviser”.