A junior minister in the Boris Johnson government resigned on Tuesday as the controversy over the prime minister’s chief adviser breaking lockdown rules continued to fester, despite the aide giving a detailed account of his actions on Monday.
Douglas Ross, minister for Scotland, referred to millions of people following government instructions to stay at home, while aide Dominic Cummings travelled over 260 miles to Durham in north-east England from London with family in end-March.
Ross said: “I haven’t commented publicly on the situation with Dominic Cummings as I have waited to hear the full details. I welcome the statement to clarify matters, but there remain aspects of the explanation which I have trouble with. As a result I have resigned as a government Minister”.
“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,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
Attempts by Johnson and Cummings to brazen out the row were met by furious headlines, not only in the left-leaning newspapers such as The Guardian and Mirror, but also Conservative-supporting mass circulation tabloids such as the Daily Mail.
Church of England bishops, who joined calls for the adviser’s resignation, said on Tuesday they had received death threats.
Cummings sought to justify his movements even when he and his wife had coronavirus symptoms, but questions remained after he was provided a rare forum in Downing Street to address the press on live television on Monday.
Critics say if millions had interpreted the curbs as he did and moved about, UK would have been in a far worse situation than it is today – it already has the biggest death toll in Europe with 36,914 deaths and 261,184 cases as of Monday evening.
Stephen Reicher, expert on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, deplored the row and its impact on public trust in official advice to deal with the pandemic.
He told Sky News: “One of the central messages that we gave to Government, one of the central points that we made was that the way we have gotten through this pandemic to date is by acting together, by thinking in terms of ‘we’, of what’s good for the community”.
“Millions of people up and down the country have done precisely that in very difficult circumstances, agonising circumstances around their families and thought ‘What is good for us as a community?’ I think the real problem here is that not simply in what Cummings did but in the messaging that the Prime Minister put out. The lesson was, forget about the ‘we’, it’s about ‘I’.”
“Now, thank God, the public at large didn’t take that attitude, the public at large, as I say, made those major sacrifices, but it threatens to undermine that sense of community if a figure as prominent as Dominic Cummings and if the Prime Minister himself starts undermining that ‘we’ message and starts talking about ‘I’, Reicher added.