The coronavirus pandemic is affecting us very deeply, both collectively and as individuals. Some have lost their lives. Some have lost loved ones in the most difficult circumstances. Everyone has seen normal life change profoundly. Huge sacrifices have been made and, most painfully, we have accepted restrictions on our freedom to be with family and friends at the time when we need them the most.
I completely understand the public anger. It is unacceptable for those who make the rules to break them. That is a particularly passionately held feeling in the UK, a consequence of our deeply held belief in fair play, democracy, and everyone being equal under the law. I cherish this trait in our national character and legal system and would fight to defend it.
Many of those who have written to me on this matter have told me of how they have been affected personally by the lockdown rules and have drawn comparisons with the decisions and actions of Mr Cummings. It is understandably against this backdrop that the situation is now being judged.
Dominic Cummings’ has given a full account of his trip to County Durham and the reasons for it. Reasonable people are now debating whether he broke the lockdown rules. There are perfectly valid arguments either way, however a point I have made repeatedly in public and in private is that in applying the rules we must not lose sight of common sense (nor indeed our humanity). This is enshrined in the law and in the guidance itself – you can do what is reasonable in exceptional circumstances that are not specifically covered, and this requires a degree of personal judgment.
With the benefit of hindsight perhaps the Government could have done more to communicate this aspect of the rules. In this case, the immediate welfare of a vulnerable four year old child was at stake and I am satisfied that the decisions made by Mr Cummings, at a time of enormous pressure, were in the best interests of his child and did not breach the rules, particularly given the exceptional nature of the death threats and hostility that his family were facing (and sadly continue to face) in their own home.
I have been advising constituents on a daily basis about the lockdown rules, and if a parent came to me in the same circumstances as Mr Cummings and asked if they could do what Mr Cummings did to protect their child, I would have said yes. I know not everyone will agree with me, but it is my honestly held belief that this does not mark a change in the substance or interpretation of the rules.
Some of the language and tone in this debate has been very unpleasant and I am deeply uncomfortable with the hounding of the Cummings family at their home. I know that many are finding it hard to cope during this crisis. It has led to quite a febrile atmosphere and I certainly share the Prime Minister’s regret at all the anger and upset that this whole episode has caused. My overriding feeling now is that we need to draw a line under this issue and move on to more important matters. As your MP, I want to continue to focus on helping people, businesses and the country get through this crisis.
I am sure mistakes have been made by the Government as well as others, but I am confident that with a collective effort and compassion for everyone who is making difficult choices at this time, better times lie ahead.
I have received many emails on the issue since Saturday and, while they have all been read, please accept my apologies that I am unable respond personally to each one. Please know that I have made Ministers aware of your feelings, comments and concerns about this particular matter.