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Under Fire Over Lockdown Trip, Close Aide to UKs Johnson Toughs It Out

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LONDON—British Prime Minister Boris Johnsons closest aide refused to resign on May 25, saying he had done nothing wrong by driving 250 miles from London to access childcare when Britons were being told to stay at home to fight COVID-19.

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

Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britains Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arrives to make a statement at 10 Downing Street, following the outbreak of COVID-19, London, Britain, on May 25, 2020. (Jonathan Brady/Pool via Reuters)

“I did what I thought was the right thing to do,” Cummings said during an extraordinary televised grilling in the rose garden at 10 Downing Street, Johnsons official residence.

“No, I have not offered to resign. No, I have not considered it,” Cummings said.

Johnsons decision to stand by a man on whom he depends as his main strategist has led to his own judgment being questioned, with critics saying the episode signals that the normal rules do not apply to the people in charge.

A protestor wearing a protective face mask
A protestor wearing a protective face mask
A protestor wearing a protective face mask is seen displaying a message near the house of Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britains Prime Minister Boris Johnson following the outbreak of COVID-19, London, Britain, on May 25, 2020. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

“I do regret the confusion and the anger and the pain that people feel … Thats why I wanted people to understand exactly what had happened,” Johnson told a later news conference. “I do not believe that anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our messaging.”

However, that was precisely what scientists and public health experts said both men had done.

“Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control COVID-19,” said Stephen Reicher, a behavioral scientist on an advisory panel, on Twitter.

With a death toll of around 43,000, Britain is Europes worst-hit country and the government had already been under pressure over its handling of the pandemic before the Cummings story broke on Friday.

With a growing number of lawmakers from his own Conservative Party defying him by urging Cummings to quit, Johnson asked his trusted aide, who normally stays behind the scenes, to explain himself in public.

The choice of the Downing Street garden as the venue underscored Cummings importance to Johnson, whom he helped to secure Britains exit from the European Union in a 2016 referendum and later helped to win power.

Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britains Prime Minister Boris Johnson, makes a statement at 10 Downing Street, following the outbreak of the COVID-19, London, Britain, on May 25, 2020. (Jonathan Brady/Pool via Reuters)

Eye Test?

Sitting at a desk on the grass for an hour, Cummings answered questions from reporters on issues as detailed as whether he stopped for petrol or toilet breaks during his 400-km journey.

Asked what message he had for Durham residents angry that he risked spreading the virus in their community, he said he would advise them not to believe everything they read in the newspapers.

He said he undertook the trip after learning Johnson had tested positive for the Read More – Source