Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has admitted he did not know Boris Johnson’s top aide had travelled to Durham during lockdown while he was standing in for the prime minister.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, the Tory frontbencher said he had been unaware of the movements of Dominic Cummings when Boris Johnson was taken into hospital with COVID-19 and he was left in charge.
While he knew Mr Cummings “was out of action because he had come down with coronavirus”, he said he “was not focused on his movements at all” and “wasn’t aware of them”.
It was only when the story broke that he became aware of the senior adviser’s controversial trip to the north, he added.
His comments follow a furious row after it was revealed that in March, Mr Cummings drove 260 miles from his London home to his parents’ farm in County Durham with his wife – who had coronavirus symptoms – and his son.
In a public statement, the PM’s senior adviser explained he decided to make the trip because he felt it would be better to self-isolate in a place where he had options for childcare if needed, and insisted he had acted “reasonably” and within the law.
He added he had made a 50-mile round-trip to Barnard Castle with his wife and child 15 days later to test his eyesight before embarking on the longer journey back to London.
On Friday, Durham police said Mr Cummings might have broken lockdown rules, but it would have been a “minor breach”.
Mr Johnson has refused to sack his adviser, despite a storm of protest and calls by a large number of his own backbenchers.
Pressed over when he found out about Mr Cummings’s travels, Mr Raab told Ridge: “I’m not sure. But to be honest with you, when the story broke was when I first became aware of the detail of it.
“I just knew that he was out of action because he had come down with coronavirus and, given the situation we were in with the prime minister taken ill, and very seriously ill as it later emerged, I was just focused with the government and with a great cabinet team on making sure we continued to focus relentlessly on dealing with the virus.
“I mean I knew Dom was unwell and he was out of action, and obviously I wanted him and the prime minister to get well soon, but I wasn’t focused on his movements at all and I wasn’t aware of them.”
Meanwhile, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat has added his name to a growing list of Conservative MPs “frustrated” by the furore surrounding Mr Cummings.
He told Ridge: “I’m not going to answer for the government, I’m not going to defend the government in that way.
“The prime minister has made his decision. You know, you can see the effect of it, you don’t need me to tell you, you can see how people have reacted to it and I’ve written to the people I’m privileged enough to represent to give them my views.”
Asked what he told his constituents, Mr Tugendhat said: “I said I can understand the frustration but it is fundamentally up to the prime minister and it is going to be up to all of us to express our views.”
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