I understand why so many questions have been asked about the actions of Dominic Cummings. Fairness is embedded in the DNA of our nation and, at a time when the British public have made unprecedented sacrifices, it is only right that those making the rules abide by them.
At the outset, I have never met Mr Cummings and hold no brief for or against him. However, I have said that I think two factors ought to guide how we approach this matter.
Firstly, I do not think that the matter ought to be politicised. I fully understand that Mr Cummings is a divisive figure, who acts as something of a lightning rod for those who dislike what he is seen to stand for. Some people will never forgive him for his role in Brexit, some will dislike him because of his role in the Conservatives’ election victory in December. I accept that for those people, none of what I may have to say here will count for very much.
Nonetheless it seems to me only fair that any man should be judged by what he did set against the law at the time, rather than because people may not like him.
Secondly, I think this matter should be looked at with compassion: Heaven forbid that we should ever be parted from that. Mr Cummings has a young son at about the same age as my own and I fully understand the demands of looking after a toddler even when you yourself are fit and well. In addition, however, Mr Cummings’ wife was ill, he was becoming very seriously ill, he has a job that is pressured to an extent unbelievable unless you have seen it, at a time of national crisis.
With that background, it is worth reminding ourselves of the law as it stood at the time.
The reasonable excuses for leaving home listed in Regulation 6 of the Coronavirus Health Protection Regulations for England, as they stood at the time, are inclusive, not exclusive. In other words, the law does not define what constitutes a reasonable excuse: it merely lists some examples of reasons that would not be unreasonable. The law cannot provide detailed rules for every conceivable situation: some judgement has to be exercised.
Even once we accept that the law does not detail all circumstances, it is worth noting in any event that one of the examples given is “to provide care or assistance…to a vulnerable person” which clearly can include a child that cannot look after itself.
One week before Mr Cummings drove to County Durham, in a conference with the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, the Deputy Medical Officer, Jennie Harries, said “clearly, if you have adults unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4d8gjTDkeGc - from 18:15)
And the guidance, in fact, says:
“If you are living with children
Keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible.”
And so, the sole issue in the case of Mr Cummings is whether what he and his wife did, in the circumstances as they existed when they drove to County Durham, and when measured against the law as it stood, amounted to “a reasonable excuse”.
In his statement, he gave what I thought was a clear, detailed, honest explanation of what he did at the time, followed by extensive questioning by the media. If you have not seen it in full, then I would encourage you to watch it: https://youtu.be/-mSyZGy8LX8
The question is not whether we agree with him, or whether we would have done the same - but whether what he did was reasonable. Mr Cummings himself accepted that reasonable people might disagree with him - but that is not the question we have to answer.
Having listened to the clear explanation Mr Cummings has given, in which I thought he came across as a man who was trying to do the right thing for his family in extremely difficult circumstances, and when set against the law as it was, I do not think that the Prime Minister’s decision to retain his services is one that can be criticised.
As to whether there is one rule for Westminster and another for everybody else, of course: there is not. The law is what it is, and must be interpreted the same for everybody, dispassionately, coolly and without fear or favour. Were a member of the public to be investigated for a similar breach, I would expect that they too would be treated in a dispassionate manner, save that I would always find space for compassion.
If any further facts emerge then I will of course reflect on this again, but I do feel that the country ought to return to the very pressing challenge of rebuilding our country’s economy and society after the horrible coronavirus pandemic. In any event, my primary focus will continue to be on supporting local residents and businesses through this unprecedented crisis.
Robert Courts MP