The Prime Minister’s top aide remains at the centre of a political storm after he drove more than 250 miles to Durham while suffering from coronavirus symptoms in March. So-far, 30 Tory MPs have called for him to be sacked by Johnson, while senior ministers are reported to have privately demanded he go.
They will be able to ask the PM questions about the situation during today’s committee hearing, but a rundown of the agenda revealed that only 20 minutes of the 90-minute session will be given to the discussion.
Other aspects of the coronavirus crisis, such as ‘roles and responsibilities’ and ‘coordination with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’ must also be raised during the same short slot.
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Liaison Committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin has said he has ‘no intention’ of preventing ‘any subject any member of the committee wants to raise’ during the hearing. Some MPs have previously accused him of being ‘too close’ to Johnson to hold him to account.
Sir Barnard also insisted the format for the session has been agreed by the committee, which includes MP William Wragg, who described the PM’s defence over Mr Cummings’ actions as ‘humiliating and degrading’.
MP Caroline Nokes, who told party whips there cannot be ‘wriggle room’ for some people when it comes to lockdown rules, will be present as well, along with Labour chair of the Home Affairs Committee Yvette Cooper, and Tory chair of the Health Committee Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Cummings first travelled to Durham with his wife and son at the end of March, stating at a televised press conference on Monday that he was sure he had contracted the virus at the time. He claimed the couple had no ulterior child care in London, and so travelled to be close to his parents and sister.
He also admitted making another trip to Barnard Castle on April 12, despite lockdown restrictions then preventing the public from leaving their home for anything other than essential travel, such as food shopping, exercising nearby or going to work.
Mr Cummings said he made the 30-mile journey to the castle to test his eyesight, in preparation for his journey back to London in the coming days. He denied returning to Durham after arriving in London on April 14.
This week a growing number of Conservative MPs have voiced their frustration over Mr Cummings after he expressed ‘no regrets’ about the trip. On Tuesday, Douglas Ross, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland, quit the Government, saying he could not ‘in good faith’ defend the aide’s actions.
Tory grandee Sir Roger Gale said the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee should make it clear to the PM his adviser should go. He continued: ‘The time I think has come for Mr Cummings to resign or for the PM to dispense of his services.
‘There are people on the 1922 executive who are courageous, and that’s their job. They are elected to tell the PM what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear.’
Former health secretary Mr Hunt also said he believed Mr Cummings broke lockdown rules on multiple occasions, but is not calling for him to resign. While former minister Stephen Hammond said his concern was ‘the distraction this is causing at a time of national crisis and the way it is undermining confidence in the public health message’.
He added: ‘Public adherence to the rules is achieved by consent in this country and that is made much harder if people feel it is one rule for them and another for senior Government advisers.’
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