Each day, usually at midday or 1pm, the prime minister’s official spokesman holds a telephone briefing for political journalists.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic these briefings were held face to face in a tucked-away tower room in the Palace of Westminster, since the end of March they’ve taken place via conference call.
Dominic Cummings, as one would expect, dominated today’s discussion. Below is the full 30-minute exchange between journalists and James Slack, the prime minister’s official civil service spokesperson.
Q: Dominic Cummings says he got medical advice before returning to London. Did that advice come from the chief medical officer (CMO), deputy CMO or any other senior government official.
A: Let me say that, at the outset, I can’t be a spokesman for special advisers, that’s not my job. I can obviously answer questions on what the prime minister’s view is on certain things, but it’s just not something I can do in terms of acting as a spokesman for Dom. If you have questions in that regard, they’ll have to go elsewhere.
Q: Where will those questions go? Given he actually used Number 10 yesterday?
A: The PM obviously asked Dominic Cummings to set out his explanation in public, he did that last night, he offered questions extensively. But in terms of myself, I obviously can’t add to what he said yesterday.
Q: What route do we use, then?
A: I mean, to reiterate, he answered questions extensively.
Q: Are we going to have another press conference from him?
A: Certainly not suggesting that, but I can’t answer questions on behalf of special advisers.
Q: Here’s a direct one for you, when you told us (in a previous April briefing) that Dominic Cummings was isolating – quote – at home, did you know at home meant Durham? Or did you think it meant London?
A: Err, no. The context of my answer was pointing out that he wasn’t at work.
Q: Yeah, but you said he was where he was at home. Did you know where he was?
Q: So why did you say he was at home?
A: I said he wasn’t at work, I meant it in that context.
Q: You told us he was at home, it seems odd you would tell us that without knowing where he was.
A: The context is, I was pointing out he wasn’t to work.
Q: It is important, isn’t it, given you’re the Number 10 official spokesman. Do you regret saying he was at home when he clearly wasn’t at home?
A: What I’m setting out is he wasn’t at work. I really have nothing more I can say.
Q: We were told not to burden the NHS by staying at home, he moved to various locations. Does Number 10 accept he put health workers in another region at risk?
A: The purpose of the advice was to break the risk of transmission. The language in terms of protecting the NHS was, what that meant was for people not to infect others and therefore ease the pressure on the NHS.
Q: Michael Gove this morning suggested the 30-mile drive to Barnard Castle was to test his eyes, that’s not legitimate?
A: Michael Gove talked about this extensively this morning, you’ve got his answers.
Q: Michael Gove also gave an extra justification to say this was a trip to take exercise, at the time no one was allowed to drive for exercise.
A: That’s not the case; if you were to look at the guidance that was issued by the National Police Chief’s Council at the time, that isn’t what it said.
Q: That advice said you cannot drive anywhere for exercise if it’s for a short period of time, the exercise, that’s exactly what he’s done, isn’t it, in breach of the lockdown?
A: He set out his reasons for that yesterday. From the prime minister’s point of view, he acted reasonably, legally and with integrity and with care for his family and for others.
A: A police officer was on the radio this morning saying people over the weekend specifically mentioned Cummings and said ‘why should we follow the rules’; does the PM accept that Cummings’ actions has made it harder for police to do their job?
A: The PM was asked a form of that question last night, and said, I do not believe that anybody in Number 10 did anything to undermine our messaging.
Q: Does Cummings have a government car?
A: I don’t know the answer to that, I will have to check.
Q: Does advice on not travelling to second homes still stand?
A: So, in terms of the particular case that I think we’re talking about, as was set out yesterday, what the advice points out, is that there will be exceptional circumstances regarding children. People are told in general in relation to government guidance that they should follow it to the best of their ability. Dominic Cummings outlined his reasons for taking the action that he did, the prime minister is satisfied with the explanation.
Q: Writing in The Spectator, Cummings’ wife says he couldn’t get out of bed, day in, day out, for 10 days. Given that that period is March 28 to April 6, how do we explain that he then drove to hospital?
A: I don’t know the details of that article.
Q: If Dominic Cummings is served with a fixed penalty notice by the police is that a resignation matter?
A: Obviously, that is not something that has happened.