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Pressure mounts on UK PM aide to quit amid more lockdown breach claims


Press Trust of India London
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top aide is facing increasing pressure to resign as further allegations emerged on Sunday of him breaching the coronavirus lockdown rules.
Dominic Cummings, who is Johnson's Chief Strategy Adviser at No. 10 Downing Street, on Saturday defended a 250-mile journey to his parents' home in Durham, north-east England, as reasonable and legal and the UK prime minister has so far stuck by him with Downing Street reiterating the same line.
However, Johnson now faces a revolt from within his own Conservative MPs over his decision not to sack Cummings as fresh allegations emerged of the aide making repeated trips in breach of the government's stay-at-home guidance to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
The Observer'and Sunday Mirror' reported that Cummings was seen in the north east of England on two more occasions, after recovering from his COVID-19 symptoms and returning to work in London. Downing Street has branded the reports as inaccurate.
But backbench Tory MP and former chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) Steve Baker called for Cummings to resign.
"The country can't afford this nonsense, this pantomime, Dominic should go and we should move on and deal with things that matter in people's lives," he told the BBC.
Fellow Conservative MP Simon Hoare has called for Cummings to "consider his position" and Tory MP Damian Collins has said the government "would be better without him".
Speaking to reporters outside his home in London on Saturday morning after the first allegation emerged related to a trip at the end of March, Cummings said he would not be resigning and had done the "right thing".
On Sunday, newspapers report that witnesses saw Cummings in Barnard Castle, more than 25 miles from Durham, on April 12.
Two days later, on April 14, he was seen in London. According to a witness, he was spotted again in Houghall Woods near Durham on April 19.
"Yesterday the Mirror and Guardian wrote inaccurate stories about Mr Cummings. Today they are writing more inaccurate stories including claims that Mr Cummings returned to Durham after returning to work in Downing Street on 14 April, a Downing Street statement said.
"We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers," it said.
A YouGov poll on Saturday found that 68 per cent of voters think Cummings broke the lockdown, while just 18 per cent disagreed. By a margin of 52 per cent to 28 per cent they think he should resign.
Opposition parties Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have written to Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK Cabinet Secretary, calling for an urgent inquiry into the allegations.
Cummings denies a breach of the coronavirus rules, saying he needed childcare help after his wife also developed COVID-19 symptoms and they drove to Durham to stay in a separate building at his parents' property.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had to field questions on the issue at the daily Downing Street briefing on Saturday evening, when he insisted that Cummings had not broken the rules because of a loophole that allows people to safeguard young and old people at risk.
I can tell you the PM provides Cummings with his full support, he said.
The UK Cabinet has largely rallied around Cummings, with Indian-origin finance minister Rishi Sunak saying: Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn't.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had also tested positive for coronavirus last month, said: I know how ill coronavirus makes you. It was entirely right for Dom Cummings to find childcare for his toddler, when both he and his wife were getting ill.
The government's strict social distancing guidance expects people not to travel and the advice for anyone with coronavirus symptoms remains to self-isolate at home and not leave even for essential supplies for seven days.

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First Published: May 24 2020 | 4:33 PM IST

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