Grant Shapps had hoped to spend today's government press conference discussing extra funding for public transport as a result of coronavirus adjustments. Instead, the Transport Secretary spent it fielding questions about Dominic Cummings. After the Guardian and Mirror reported that the senior No. 10 aide travelled 260 miles to be near relatives so his family had childcare support nearby as they self-isolated with coronavirus, Cummings has been accused of flouting government advice with the SNP's Ian Blackford calling for him to resign. A snap YouGov poll released this afternoon says that 52 per cent of those surveyed believe Cummings broke the rules and should go.
However, it's clear from today's press conference that the Prime Minister plans to stand by his senior aide. The Transport Secretary put in a lengthy defence of Cummings and said the No. 10 adviser had the Prime Minister's backing: 'I can tell you the Prime Minister provides Mr Cummings with his full support'.
While Shapps said individuals should not travel with either coronavirus or a suspected case of coronavirus, he argued that this was a set of unique circumstances that complied with government advice as Cummings was safeguarding his child's welfare. Asked why Cummings ought to remain in his role when government advisers – Neil Ferguson and Catherine Calderwood – had resigned previously for breaking the advice, Shapps insisted that this case was different:
“This wasn’t visiting a holiday home or to visit someone; this was to stay put for 14 days and to remain in isolation and to get over a significant bout of illness with coronavirus and return to London only when well to do a job that couldn’t be done elsewhere.
As the conference ran on, Shapps appeared to become exasperated by the repeated questions – at one point suggesting it could be good to talk more about the government's plans for the A66. However, with Labour calling this afternoon for an 'urgent inquiry' into the allegations on the grounds that the 'British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser', this isn't a story that's about to go away. Shapps's performance at the press conference along with the multiple messages of public support for Cummings from ministers and MPs on social media shows that Downing Street plans to fight this all the way.