Dominic Cummings. Picture: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY/FILE PHOTO
Dominic Cummings. Picture: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY/FILE PHOTO

London —  British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's chief adviser declined to resign on Monday, saying he had done nothing wrong by driving 400km from London to access childcare when Britons were being told to stay at home to fight Covid-19.

Dominic Cummings has faced calls to resign from some MPs, Church of England bishops, police officers and scientists over his trip to Durham in northern UK, which they said had damaged citizens' trust in public health messaging.

But he plays a vital role for Johnson, and the prime minister's own judgment has been called into question for defending him, leading some people in Britain to say the rules did not apply to the people in charge.

“I did what I thought was the right thing to do,” Cummings said in response to reporters' questions after reading a statement defending his decision to travel 400km to Durham with his wife, who was ill at the time, and his four-year-old son.

“I think ... I behaved reasonably,” he said.

Johnson had come out fighting for Cummings at a news conference on Sunday, but his intervention backfired after he failed to provide any detailed justification for his adviser's actions.

With a growing number of MPs from his own Conservative Party openly defying him by calling on Cummings to quit, Johnson asked his trusted aide to explain himself in public on Monday.

The stakes are high for Cummings, Johnson and the nation. The furore has overshadowed and muddled the government's public health messaging as the country gradually starts to ease the lockdown.

With a death toll of about 43,000, Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe and the government had already been under pressure over its handling of the pandemic.

Cummings said he undertook the trip soon after learning that Johnson had tested positive for the new coronavirus. His wife was already ill and he feared if he too fell ill neither parent would be strong enough to care for their son.

He said he decided they should go and stay in an isolated cottage on his father's farm so that his 17-year-old niece could look after his son if necessary. Cummings did fall ill while they were there, as did his son who briefly went to hospital.

Asked whether he tried to find a childcare option in London before leaving, he said he did not think it would have been reasonable to ask friends to expose themselves to the virus.

Cummings answered questions about whether he had stopped for petrol or for his son to go to the toilet during the long drive.

Asked about a drive he took with his wife and son from the family farm to market town Barnard Castle, he said his eyesight had been affected by his illness and they wanted to check if he would be able to undertake the journey back to London.

Reuters