Sir Bob Neill among Conservative MPs voicing frustration over actions of Dominic Cummings
Sir Bob Neill, a longtime friend of Gibraltar and chairman of the cross-party Gibraltar group in the House of Commons, was among a growing number of Conservative MPs who yesterday voiced their frustration over Dominic Cummings after he said that he had “no regrets” about his trip to Durham.
In a press conference on Sunday, Mr Cummings – Boris Johnson’s chief adviser – defended a 260-mile trip from London to the north-east of England he made with his family during lockdown, explaining that he believes he behaved “reasonably”.
However on Tuesday, Douglas Ross, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland, quit the UK Government, saying that he could not “in good faith” defend Mr Cummings’ actions.
Speaking in an interview with the BBC, Mr Ross said that there are still unanswered questions regarding the actions of Mr Cummings.
On his decision to quit his role, he said: “Well it’s a personal decision. I can only be accountable for my own decisions and as I’ve said, this is not unanimous.”
Mr Ross added: “I think there are still unanswered questions with his (Mr Cummings) statement and that’s why I felt I couldn’t go out and defend it.”
At least 24 Tory MPs have now spoken out against the actions of Mr Cummings, including Sir Bob.
Sir Bob said he had “a lot of sympathy” for Mr Cummings, who defended his actions saying he had wanted to protect his family.
Sir Bob acknowledged too that the rules allowed for some travel in exceptional circumstances, adding he was prepared to accept that Mr Cummings acted in good faith and believed that he was within the law.
“However, the same sort of dilemma has been faced by millions of other families, some in much worse circumstances, and overwhelmingly they have abided by the spirit of the guidance, staying at home, often at real personal cost and sacrifice,” Sir Bob said in a statement.
“Had Mr Cummings accepted at the start that he made an error of judgement, albeit for what he believed to be good motives, and apologised, I think fair minded people might well have accepted it.”
“We can all make genuine mistakes. But unfortunately, that recognition that his actions had in fact sent the wrong message and undermined the collective effort that we have all been making to prevent the spread of infection, and that apology, have not been forthcoming.”
“Additionally, even on his own account, I simply cannot see how testing his eyesight by driving his family on a round trip of around 60 miles on 12 April can possibly be said to fall within the rules, let alone demonstrate responsible behaviour towards other road users."
Another veteran Tory MP, Sir Roger Gale, said the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee should make it clear to the PM that his adviser should go.
“The time I think has come for Mr Cummings to resign or for the PM to dispense of his services,” Sir Roger said.
The North Thanet MP told the PA news agency: “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.”
Senior Tory William Wragg said that it was “humiliating and degrading” to see ministers put out agreed lines in defence of Mr Cummings.
Mr Wragg, chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the Commons, said: “We cannot throw away valuable public and political good will any longer.
“It’s humiliating and degrading to their office to see ministers put out agreed lines in defence of an adviser.”
“This is a time of national emergency and our focus must be unrelenting. We owe it to the nation.”
Tory MP Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the Commons women and equalities committee, said she had informed her party whips there could not be “wriggle room” for some people when it comes to lockdown rules.
The former immigration minister tweeted: “I made my views clear to my whip yesterday. There cannot be one rule for most of us and wriggle room for others.”
“My inbox is rammed with very angry constituents and I do not blame them. They have made difficult sacrifices over the course of the last nine weeks.”