Boris Johnson has issued a stern rebuke to his aide Dominic Cummings, warning that he ‘will not tolerate’ another media firestorm.
The Prime Minister has ordered his top adviser to stay firmly out of the public eye following the crisis caused by his lockdown trip from London to Durham, with one senior Downing Street source telling The Mail on Sunday: ‘Dom’s been firmly put in his place.’
Mr Johnson’s ‘last chance’ ultimatum comes after Remainer and Left-wing critics leapt on the saga to take revenge for Mr Cummings’s role in winning the Brexit referendum and a landslide Tory Election victory.
Dominic Cummings (pictured) has been warned by Boris Johnson that he has one more chance and that he will not tolerate another media firestorm
The Mail on Sunday can today reveal that a retired teacher who reported the No 10 adviser to police broke lockdown rules himself – while a supposed ‘witness’ who claimed Mr Cummings had made a second trip to the region admitted he made his statement up as a joke.
Tim Matthews said that he doctored the details on an app used by runners to record routes and times to make it seem like he had seen Mr Cummings in Durham six days after he had returned to London.
Meanwhile, former teacher Robin Lees, who called police about Mr Cummings taking a trip from his parents’ Durham home to Barnard Castle, last night admitted to making a long-distance trip himself.
He drove from his home in Barnard Castle earlier this month to pick up his student daughter who had been self-isolating at her boyfriend’s home in Berkshire. She was seen at the family home last week, but Mr Lees insists he complied with the relevant rules at the time.
Mr Johnson has been paying a heavy price for the Cummings fiasco, with one source describing how he was ‘very miffed’ with how the fallout was handled, and telling Mr Cummings that he has one ‘last chance’ not to mess up again.
A new poll shows the Tory lead over Labour has narrowed to just five points following the week’s torrid events – down from 19 a month ago.
- A survey for this newspaper by pollsters Deltapoll now puts the Conservatives on 43 per cent and Labour on 38.
- In other developments yesterday:
- Anti-Brexit Labour peer Baroness Armstrong admitted she passed on information to help expose Dominic Cummings’s alleged lockdown breach;
- Labour MP Rosie Duffield confessed she had broken the rules to meet up with her new married lover;
- Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who ran against Mr Johnson for the Tory leadership, was accused of plotting against the PM;
- Ministers announced that 2.2 million vulnerable and elderly people in Britain will have their lockdown restrictions eased from tomorrow;
- Sporting events, including behind-closed-doors football and cricket, horse racing and the British Formula 1 Grand Prix, were given the go-ahead from tomorrow;
- The UK death toll rose to 38,376 with a further 215 fatalities confirmed yesterday;
- Scientists urged the public to take care even after lockdown restrictions are eased tomorrow, with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warning: ‘Don’t tear the pants out of it’.
The handling of the Cummings affair had sparked an angry backlash in Downing Street, with the aide now banned from making media appearances and writing his eccentric blog posts.
One No10 insider said: ‘The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that Dominic cannot be the story again. He will not tolerate it. If it happens again, he’s out.’
While the PM was satisfied with his aide’s explanation for the trip to Durham, another source said he had been frustrated at how the fall-out had been handled.
A No 10 official admitted that the PM ‘unsurprisingly had more than a few words to say to Dom behind the scenes’. Another said: ‘I don’t expect there will be any blog posts or media appearances by Dom for a very long time.
Sources say that Cummings has been firmly put in his place by the Prime Minister (pictured)
‘He’s been firmly put in his place.’
Durham Police last week ruled that Mr Cummings, who travelled 260 miles to his parents’ farm to seek childcare for his son in case he and his wife became incapacitated with coronavirus, may have committed ‘a minor breach’ of lockdown rules by taking his trip to Barnard Castle on April 12.
Despite a torrent of criticism, Mr Johnson argued that his aide had acted with ‘integrity’ and with the best interests of his family at heart.
The Government last night tried to get on the front foot by announcing that the 2.2 million people who have been shielding to protect themselves from coronavirus will from tomorrow be able go outside with those in their household or one person from another household.
The move is likely to be welcomed by grandparents, many of whom have health issues that have required them to lock themselves away for months.
Hailing their ‘resilience’, Mr Johnson said: ‘I want to thank everyone who has followed the shielding guidance – it is because of your patience and sacrifice that thousands of lives have been saved.
‘I do not underestimate just how difficult it has been for you, staying at home for the last ten weeks, and I want to pay tribute to your resilience.’
Away from coronavirus, he Government is also facing unrest on another front amid growing fears that Trade Secretary Liz Truss will sell out Britain’s farmers in a US trade deal.
Teacher who called police on Cummings drove 250 miles to get his daughter
By Jacinta Taylor
A retired teacher who reported Dominic Cummings to the police for allegedly breaking lockdown rules has admitted driving 250 miles to collect his daughter during the coronavirus crisis.
Robin Lees drove from his home in Barnard Castle, County Durham, to pick up his student daughter, Elizabeth, who had been self-isolating at her boyfriend’s home in Ascot, Berkshire, after returning from an extended study trip to Canada.
It is understood that Elizabeth, a geography undergraduate at University College London, returned to the UK at the end of March.
I didn’t break the rules’: Robin Lees, who reported Dominic Cummings to the police, admitted driving 250 miles to collect his daughter during the coronavirus crisis
Police officers from Durham Constabulary took a statement from Mr Lees on Bank Holiday Monday after he reported seeing Mr Cummings and his wife strolling by the banks of the River Tees in Barnard Castle on April 12.
Mr Cummings, who said his vision had been adversely affected after he fell ill with a suspected case of Covid-19, admitted making the trip with his wife Mary to test his eyesight prior to driving back to London.
But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that just days before speaking to the police, Mr Lees broke lockdown regulations himself by making a 526-mile round-trip to collect his daughter and bring her back to the family home.
Measures announced by Boris Johnson on May 11 included an easing of travel restrictions to allow people to drive as far as they wanted. But this was only if they were going to an outdoors location and as long as the social distancing protocol was observed.
There wasn’t any change in the guidelines for allowing relatives who are not normally resident in the family home to move in.
Last night 71-year-old Mr Lees, who taught chemistry prior to his retirement, vigorously denied that he had been in breach of any rules. Asked if he had driven to Ascot, he replied: ‘I did, but that was after the regulations changed. My daughter self-isolated in London for seven or eight weeks. I waited until we were told we could drive anywhere in the country.
‘My daughter came back from Canada and isolated in London. She never came home for seven weeks. I didn’t break any lockdown rules. I went and collected her after we were told we could.’
He added: ‘I tell the truth and I do not like this intrusion into my family and this is absolutely nothing to do with them. I did not break any lockdown rules.’
Mr Lees refused to say exactly when he made the journey to collect his daughter, but insisted that it was after May 11. Elizabeth was seen outside the house last Thursday morning. He said: ‘I do object to my family being involved. This is nothing to do with my family, right? I have had a lot of stuff on Twitter.
‘I gave my name for something I saw which has been lied about. Total lies, follow that up. Nothing to do with me. I have kept to the rules throughout, I have walked once a day.’ When asked what lies he was referring to, Mr Lees said: ‘That he came here to test his eyesight, everybody knows that.’
The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy, which came into force on May 13, does allow travel for outdoor exercise. It states that ‘people may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there’.
However, with regard to social and family contact, the 61-page document says ‘the Government has asked Sage to examine whether, when and how it can safely change the regulations to allow people to expand the household group to include one other household in the same exclusive group’.
It adds in a later section: ‘Over the coming weeks, the Government will engage on the nature and timing of the measures in this step, in order to consider the widest possible array of views on how best to balance the health, economic and social effects.’
Second witness admits he made up sighting ‘for comedy’
By Jacinta Taylor
A key witness who claimed he saw Dominic Cummings on a second lockdown trip to Durham has now said that he made up the story as a joke.
Tim Matthews, a keen runner, admitted that he doctored the details on the Strava app, used by joggers and athletes to record routes and times, to make it look as if he had seen Mr Cummings on the afternoon of April 19 – five days after the Prime Minister’s aide returned to London.
The claim that Mr Cummings made a second trip north, which he denied, was reported from an unnamed source in The Observer newspaper last week.
Runner Tim Matthews, who also made a claim against Dominic Cummings’ whereabouts, admitted he made the allegation up as a joke
On Monday, its sister paper, The Guardian gave details of a second witness making the same claim, reporting that: ‘Tim Matthews, a runner, has since come forward to claim he saw Cummings later that day [April 19].’
The Guardian also said Mr Matthews ‘tweeted a link to a route from the running app Strava that he had dubbed “Brick Run aka Dominic Cummings Spotting Run”.’
Mr Matthews posted a message that read: ‘Here’s my two potential sightings [at] Riverbanks and Houghall Woods – I’ve been banging on about them ever since.’
But speaking to The Mail on Sunday outside his semi-detached home in an affluent Durham suburb, Mr Matthews said of the Strava post: ‘I made that up afterwards, a few days ago in fact. I modified it for a little bit of comedy value.
‘I undid it later, I’m sorry. A bit of comedy value even if it was really inappropriate.
‘The only thing that I can definitively say is that at some point during the last few months when I was out running, I had occasion to think to myself, “That’s Dominic Cummings”.
‘What I can’t tell you is any sort of timeframe other than in the last few months.’
Mr Matthews, who supports remaining in the European Union according to his comments on his social media accounts, also tweeted under a Guardian article about Mr Cummings on May 23: ‘Ask him whether he was walking along the riverbanks in Durham city on (or around) 02 April – and if so who he was walking with. “Yes” & “My parents” would be a good start. Then ask him why?’
Mr Matthews was one of two witnesses who claimed to have seen Mr Cummings admiring the bluebells in picturesque Houghall Woods on April 19.
It was reported that he was overheard remarking: ‘Aren’t the bluebells lovely?’
Mr Cummings has strenuously denied heading back to Durham following his return to London and the Prime Minister has dismissed reports of a second lockdown-breaking visit to Durham as ‘palpably false’.
One more blunder and you’re out!: ‘Furious’ Boris Johnson warns Dominic Cummings that he can’t afford to become the story again
By Harry Cole
Boris Johnson has gagged his maverick aide Dominic Cummings from making media appearances and issuing bizarre blog posts after sparing him the axe, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Downing Street sources have told this newspaper a furious Prime Minister warned that he would not tolerate another media firestorm concerning his eccentric right-hand man.
A No 10 insider said: ‘The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear Dominic cannot be the story again. He will not tolerate it. If it happens again, he’s out.’
Although police did not find Mr Cummings had breached the law with his 260-mile trip to Durham, it is understood Mr Johnson is furious at how his aide fanned the flames of the row with combative quotes to the media from ‘friends’ and a hostile appearance before the cameras outside his house last Saturday.
Downing Street sources have told this newspaper a furious Prime Minister warned that he would not tolerate another media firestorm concerning his eccentric right-hand man
Facing a torrent of public criticism, Mr Cummings emerged to berate journalists, claiming: ‘Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.’
At crisis meetings at No 10 last weekend, Mr Johnson received a ‘chapter and verse account’ of what Mr Cummings and his family had done while he himself was in hospital with Covid-19.
And while he was satisfied with the explanation, one source said he was ‘very miffed’ with how the fallout was handled and Mr Cummings has one ‘last chance’.
According to one official, the PM ‘unsurprisingly had more than a few words to say to Dom behind the scenes’.
Another added: ‘I don’t expect there’ll be any blog posts or media appearances by Dom for a very long time. He’s been firmly put in his place.’
Mr Cummings blog post last year calling for ‘weirdos and misfits’ to come work for him at No 10 prompted a major row over one of the successful candidates who was later forced to resign.
In terms of public opinion, Mr Johnson has paid a heavy price to keep his powerful adviser in his job, according to a new poll for The Mail on Sunday.
A survey by Deltapoll today finds that the Conservatives’ lead over Labour has collapsed to just five points. Just over a month ago, that lead was 19 points and last week it was ten points.
Now 43 per cent of voters say they would vote Tory tomorrow, compared to 38 per cent who would vote for Labour.
Amid a torrid week of headlines, Mr Johnson’s own personal approval ratings have seen a similar decline. At the start of the outbreak, 70 per cent of respondents thought he was doing well. That figure is now 54 per cent.
Deltapoll chief Joe Twyman said: ‘The public support for both Boris Johnson specifically, and his Conservative Government more generally, has fallen significantly over the last few weeks, a trend that has accelerated following the revelations surrounding his chief adviser Dominic Cummings.
According to one official, the PM ‘unsurprisingly had more than a few words to say to Dom behind the scenes’
‘Downing Street will be hoping that this downward trend does not continue and that these recent events are a talking point, not a turning point.’
Last night, a senior Government scientist also launched a barbed attack on Mr Cummings, after other officials had attempted to distance themselves from the row.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam was asked at the Downing Street daily news conference whether people in authority should give a lead and obey the rules.
‘Thank you for the question and I’m quite happy to answer it,’ he said. ‘In my opinion, the rules are clear and they have always been clear. In my opinion, they are for the benefit of all and in my opinion they apply to all.’
On Thursday, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty refused to be drawn on the subject, insisting he wanted to remain out of politics.
Remainer peer passed on information to ‘very good contacts in the region’ to help expose Dominic Cummings’s alleged Covid-19 breach
By Brendan Carlin
Baroness Armstrong, a fierce opponent of Brexit, received ‘well done on Cummings’ plaudits last week
An anti-Brexit Labour peer who was one of Tony Blair’s closest allies passed on information to help expose Dominic Cummings’s alleged breach of the virus lockdown, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Former Durham MP Hilary Armstrong is being feted by Labour colleagues for her role in revealing that the No 10 aide had travelled 260 miles from his London home to stay near his parents in the North East.
Baroness Armstrong, a fierce opponent of Brexit, received ‘well done on Cummings’ plaudits last week from fellow Labour peers delighted at the embarrassment caused to the man many of them blame for delivering the 2016 EU referendum result.
Sources revealed that Lady Armstrong, who in 2017 claimed that the UK’s exit path was ‘mad and dangerous’, received reports about six weeks ago that Mr Cummings was in the Durham area.
The former Durham North-West MP then passed on the ‘tip-off’ to Labour peers and to an MP. A source said: ‘Hilary has very good contacts in the region. She heard from a colleague in the North East that Cummings had been seen in Durham.
‘She passed the tip on to other peers and to an MP.
‘Hilary didn’t ring the papers about it herself – she got somebody else to do that.’
The allegations against Mr Cummings were first revealed last weekend in the Labour-friendly Guardian and Daily Mirror papers.
At a private meeting of Labour peers via Zoom last week, Lady Armstrong sought to play down her role in the affair, claiming she was ‘getting too much credit for it’. But she is understood to have expressed regret that no photographic evidence existed of Mr Cummings in the region or of a controversial trip during his stay to Barnard Castle.
The allegations against Mr Cummings were first revealed last weekend in the Labour-friendly Guardian and Daily Mirror papers
One source said: ‘Hilary said, “It’s a pity that people in the North unlike down South aren’t so used to taking pictures with their phones.” ’ One Tory MP said that ‘as a former key member of Labour’s North-East mafia and a Remainer to her fingertips, Hilary would have grabbed at any chance to take Dominic Cummings down.’
However, Lady Armstrong denied being motivated by Remainer revenge, saying she simply ‘could not believe that he [Mr Cummings] would have put public safety in jeopardy’ in this way. She added: ‘There were rumours going around in Durham about Mr Cummings being there and I passed that on.’
Last year, the arch-Blairite, who became a peer in 2010, was expelled by her local North West Durham constituency party after she put her name to a newspaper advertisement attacking then party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations.
She hit back by voicing her sadness that the party in the constituency – at the time represented by Corbynite MP Laura Pidcock – ‘always used to be a place where differing opinions were respected’.
The former Labour stronghold was one of the so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats that fell to the Tories at last year’s Election.
Surprise! Mob hurling abuse at Dominic Cummings outside his family home in London were Remainers
By Max Aitchison
They descended on a family home in a quiet, tree-lined street, a mob of placard-wielding protesters spewing foul messages of hate.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that in addition to a shared desire to ‘hold Dominic Cummings to account’, those hurling abuse outside his London house appeared united by another cause: antipathy towards Brexit.
Among them were former BBC journalist Lara Pawson, TV producer Samuel Jones and freelance Guardian photographer Jill Mead.
Ms Pawson, an author who worked for the BBC World Service for more than a decade, brandished a sign which read ‘Cummings, you are full of s***’. She has since defended her actions by claiming: ‘I wasn’t threatening: I was holding a piece of cardboard.’
But Ms Pawson, a staunch Labour supporter and anti-Brexiteer, has also admitted shouting ‘you shameless bastard’ as Mr Cummings, the architect of the Vote Leave campaign to take Britain out of the EU, returned home last week. In the past she has tweeted crude jokes about Brexit.
‘PROUD TO PROTEST’: Remainer Samuel Jones with his placard
Targeting Mr Cummings at home rather than outside Downing Street, where he works, has caused unease across the political divide.
Phillip Blond, the political philosopher and think-tank director, condemned the ‘mob behaviour’ as ‘deeply repulsive’, adding: ‘Those who took part in this “street justice” have departed from all standards of common decency. It is vile.’
And Professor Karol Sikora, a former World Health Organisation adviser, said footage of the abuse left him ‘extremely uncomfortable’.
He added: ‘He has a young child who must be stressed. I understand people are angry, but this level of abuse is unacceptable near someone’s family home. This is appalling… truly horrid.’
But the behaviour was endorsed by Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, Mr Cummings’s local MP, who bragged that her constituents could be ‘relied on to say it as it is’.
Her comments caused a backlash on Twitter, with one woman posting: ‘Lovely, condoning “lynch mobs” especially when there is a child in the house. Other children living nearby seeing this barbaric behaviour. What are we teaching them?’
‘I’VE NO RESPECT FOR HIM’: Ms Pawson and her crude sign
Beside Ms Pawson stood Samuel Jones, another Remainer, who held a sign saying ‘Demonic Scummings must go’. After Guardian columnist Marina Hyde condemned the ‘disturbing’ scenes, Mr Jones wrote to the newspaper, saying: ‘Please don’t allow Mr Cummings to weaponise this legitimate protest by evoking images of misbehaving protesters. We, as with the lockdown, obeyed the rules.’
Mr Jones, who has worked on programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, said he was ‘proud’ of his role in the protest, but admitted: ‘I was conflicted about whether it was the right thing to hold my protest outside Cummings’s home – it’s not my usual style – but there are good reasons… to take this out of the usual more official channels, because Cummings has consistently demonstrated he has no respect for conventional channels and is accountable to no one.’
In a statement to The Mail on Sunday, Ms Pawson called Mr Cummings a ‘liar’ and a ‘dangerous man’. She said: ‘He seeks to undermine our democratic institutions. He shows no respect for the men and women working day and night at our hospitals to save lives – professional people who have repeatedly asked all of us to stay home. I have no respect for him at all.’
Scotland Yard said it offered Mr Cummings security advice and provided ‘an appropriate policing plan’.
Repellent cowards: Left-wing writer and teacher at a top girls’ school target Michael Gove’s family
By Nick Constable
A left-wing writer who threatened to inflict violence on Michael Gove in front of his children has been cautioned by police.
Former Daily Mirror and Guardian journalist Andy Dawson, who now hosts a podcast with comedian Bob Mortimer, was questioned by officers over an aggressively foul-mouthed tweet he sent to Mr Gove’s wife Sarah Vine.
Written after the Cabinet Office Minister voiced his support for Dominic Cummings, it said: ‘I see your c*** of a husband is lying through his f****** teeth all over the TV this morning.
‘I’d pay hard cash to chase the f***** down the street and boot him in the b***s and DEFINITELY in front of your kids cos they need to know what a rank s***house their dad is.’
It is understood that a formal complaint was made last week to Northumbria Police, who cover 47-year-old Mr Dawson’s home city of Sunderland.
Troll: Andy Dawson (pictured) was questioned by officers over an aggressively foul-mouthed tweet he sent to Mr Gove’s wife Sarah Vine
His Athletico Mince podcast with Mr Mortimer is said to have amassed 30 million listeners with more than 200,000 tuning in to each episode.
Before turning to podcasting, he ran social media accounts for newspaper publishers Trinity Mirror – now known as Reach plc – including one for current Daily Mirror editor Alison Phillips when she launched the short-lived New Day newspaper. He has also written extensively for the Guardian.
Mr Dawson’s Twitter account had 50,000 followers, but was taken down yesterday. He is the highest-profile troll to be identified during the Dominic Cummings affair.
Ms Vine told a follower who alerted her to Mr Dawson’s tweet: ‘I really hope that if he has kids, he never gets to experience what this feels like.’
Asked whether anyone had complained about threats towards the Goves, Northumbria Police confirmed that it had received a report of alleged threatening posts on social media.
Alom Shaha (pictured), a physics teacher at Camden School for Girls in London, said Michael Gove’s 17-year-old daughter should ‘actively campaign against’ her father before accusing Mr Gove and his wife of supporting fascism
A spokesman said: ‘A 47-year-old man has been interviewed under caution in connection with a report of malicious communication. He has since received a caution by police.’
Mr Dawson’s LinkedIn page describes him as ‘writer, broadcaster, idiot’. A father of two school-age children, his freelance career also includes running social media accounts for PG Tips, E4 and HP Sauce. His podcast with Mr Mortimer began as a football-themed show with Dawson playing to his working class roots in Sunderland, where he lives in a semi-detached house south of the Wear.
The podcast has since evolved into a commentary on Dawson’s life ‘experiences and encounters’
Elsewhere on Twitter, a teacher at a girls’ secondary school discussed the Goves’ 17-year-old daughter ‘like a piece of meat’ while targeting her parents with vile abuse.
Alom Shaha, a physics teacher at Camden School for Girls in London, said the 17-year-old should ‘actively campaign against’ her father before accusing Mr Gove and his wife of supporting fascism.
Mr Shaha said in his tweet: ‘I would love to see a f****** 12-year-old of one of these b******s leave home and claim asylum saying they don’t want to live with fascists.’
Aggressive: The Tweet Andy Dawson sent. It is understood that a formal complaint was made last week to Northumbria Police, who cover 47-year-old Mr Dawson’s home city of Sunderland
His account has now been deleted too.
In both cases Ms Vine, a columnist with The Mail on Sunday’s sister paper the Daily Mail, tackled the trolls head on.
She also took on a third, who claimed in an exchange with Shaha that the Goves’ daughter ‘distances’ herself from her father on TikTok.
As others piled in, Ms Vine tweeted: ‘If people can’t see why I’m upset in a week when a man threatened to beat up my husband in front of my kids and where some other men used my daughter as a political football, then I’m sorry. I just am.’
Last night Ms Vine said that Mr Shaha, who she noted used a protected account, and another man had ‘discussed my teenage daughter like a piece of meat on Twitter’.
And she added: ‘It’s one thing to be attacked oneself but when these people come after your children, that’s when it becomes so deeply personal that you can’t ignore it.
‘The fact this bile is being disseminated by teachers is worse.’
Mr Shaha did not respond to a request for comment.