Minister quits over Cummings’ lockdown actions

Boris Johnson alongside Douglas Ross

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Boris Johnson said he regretted Douglas Ross’ decision to stand down

Junior minister Douglas Ross has resigned after Dominic Cummings’ defence of his trip to County Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Scotland Office minister said the senior aide’s view of the government guidance was “not shared by the vast majority of people”.

Mr Cummings has explained why he drove 260 miles in March from his home to his parents’ farm with his wife and child.

No 10 said the prime minister regretted Mr Ross’ decision to stand down.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Mr Ross, who remains Tory MP for Moray, said: “While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked.”

“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government.

“I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

A No 10 spokesman said: “The prime minister would like to thank Douglas Ross for his service to government and regrets his decision to stand down as parliamentary under secretary of state for Scotland.”

Mr Cummings has faced calls to resign after it emerged he had driven his child and ill wife from London to County Durham during lockdown.

At a news conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street on Monday afternoon, he said he did not regret his actions. and believed he acted reasonably and legally.

On the subject of why he then drove his family to the town of Barnard Castle – 15 days after he had displayed symptoms – Mr Cummings said he was testing his eyesight to see if he could make the trip back down to London. He explained that he had experienced some eyesight problems during his illness.

Douglas Ross backed Boris Johnson to be Tory leader and is not one of those in the party seen as hostile to his style of government.

So this resignation is a blow – and could point to wider discontent.

There is a Scottish subplot – the Scottish Tories have been accused of hypocrisy for demanding Scotland’s chief medical officer resign then staying quiet about Dominic Cummings.

But Mr Ross’s reasons for resigning are scathing.

He says he cannot tell his constituents in good faith that they were wrong to miss funerals and other family events, but Mr Cummings was right.

He says he has listened to his constituents and resigned. The question now is whether other Tory MPs are continuing to get the same feedback.

Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said Mr Ross had done the “decent thing” by resigning.

“He understands that it’s not acceptable to have one rule for Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, another for everybody else,” he said.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he respected Mr Ross for taking the “difficult decision” to resign and called for Mr Cummings to be removed from his post “without further delay”.

“This issue transcends politics. It is about protecting trust and confidence in the public health advice,” he said in a tweet.

Opposition MPs are meeting to discuss their next steps in deciding how to hold Boris Johnson and his senior aide to account.

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Media captionCummings ‘didn’t break the guidelines’ says Gove

Several government ministers have posted messages of support for Mr Cummings on Twitter.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told the BBC Mr Cummings’ account of his actions was “exhaustive, detailed and verifiable” and “people will make their own mind up”.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said it was time for the government to “move on and continue to address the things that are most important in tackling the next phase of the virus”.

Boris Johnson has continued to back Mr Cummings.

However, William Wragg, Tory MP for Hazel Grove, said it was “humiliating and degrading” to see ministers defending the adviser.

Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale was among those calling for Mr Cummings to resign, telling the BBC he had “sent out a very damaging and dangerous message” to the public.

The row overshadowed Mr Johnson’s announcement on Monday that all non-essential shops in England will be allowed to reopen from 15 June provided they meet new social distancing and hygiene measures.

They follow outdoor markets and car showrooms, which will be allowed to reopen from 1 June.

But with online shopping booming during the lockdown, there are questions over whether customers will return.

Latest government figures show the number of people to die with coronavirus in the UK rose by 121 to 36,914 on Monday.

In other developments:

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