Now Tory MPs demand the head of Dominic Cummings
24th May 2020

Now Tory MPs demand the head of Dominic Cummings: Top Brexiteer Steve Baker leads anger on backbenches and says Britain ‘can’t afford this nonsense’ over claims the maverick aide broke lockdown three times

  • No10 aide Dominic Cummings travelled from London to parents’ home in Durham when he was self-isolating 
  • Witness testimonies have cast doubt on the Downing Street aide’s insistence he ‘stayed put’ at parents farm
  • One claimed to have seen Mr Cummings 30 miles away from farm on April 12 amid tight travel restrictions
  • A second then said they sighted Mr Cummings back in Durham on April 19, five days after returning to No10
  • Revelations have poured petrol on the row engulfing Boris Johnson’s right-hand man, who has so far clung on  
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Furious Tory MPs demanded Boris Johnson sack top aide Dominic Cummings today for breaking the coronavirus travel lockdown, as the first cracks in party unity appeared.

Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister and a senior hardline Brexiteer like Mr Cummings, broke cover to demand the advisor be removed, demanding the Prime Minister ‘take back control’ of events squirming from his grasp.

The Prime Minister has mounted a determined defence of his controversial lieutenant over revelations he travelled 270 miles from London to Durham while the public were told to stay at home, telling allies: ‘It’s not like he was visiting a lover.’ 

And senior ministers have rallied around the Machiavellian figure, insisting he was acted as a concerned parent and broke no rules.

But just as the Prime Minister resolved to stand by his right-hand-man, Downing Street adviser was rocked by fresh claims of flouting the strict national guidelines from two more witnesses, which whipped up a further frenzy for him to be sacked. 

Mr Baker told Sky News that Mr Cummings’ career had always ‘created an awful lot of collateral damage’, including the Brexit campaign, adding: ‘He is not always right and he certainly isn’t indispensable’. 

‘If he doesn’t resign, we’ll just keep burning through Boris’s political capital at a rate we can ill afford in the midst of this crisis,’ he said.

‘It is very clear that Dominic travelled when everybody else understood Dominic’s slogans to mean ”stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives”.

‘And I think mums and dads who very much care about their children and who have been forgoing the childcare of their extended family will wonder why he has been allowed to do this.

‘I really just don’t see, as we approach the Prime Minister (appearing) at the liaison committee on Wednesday, how this is going to go away unless Dominic goes.’ 

Simon Hoare, the Tory North Dorset MP and Northern Ireland Select Committee chairman later added his voice to the call, tweeting: ‘With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the Government’s reputation he must consider his position. 

‘Lockdown has had its challenges for everyone. It’s his cavalier ”I don’t care; I’m cleverer than you” tone that infuriates people. He is now wounding the PM/Govt & I don’t like that.’

Damian Collins, the former culture committee chairman, also went public this morning, tweeting: ‘Dominic Cummings has a track record of believing that the rules don’t apply to him and treating the scrutiny that should come to anyone in a position of authority with contempt. The government would be better without him.’

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps attempted to defend Mr Cummings, telling Ridge he was ‘trying to do his best’ for his four-year-old son.

Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister and a senior hardline Brexiteer like Mr Cummings, broke cover to demand the advisor be removed, demanding the Prime Minister ‘take back control’ of events squirming from his grasp

Simon Hoare, the Tory North Dorset MP and Northern Ireland Select Committee chairman later added his voice to the call, tweeting: ‘With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the Government’s reputation he must consider his position

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps attempted to defend Mr Cummings, telling Ridge he was ‘trying to do his best’ for his four-year-old son

Timeline of Cummings’ lockdown row 

March 23: As the coronavirus crisis escalates, the UK is placed into lockdown with strict limitations on travel.

The Government guidelines state: ‘You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.’

Those in a household with symptoms must ‘stay at home and not leave the house’ for up to 14 days. 

March 27: Both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock test positive for coronavirus, while chief medical officer Chris Whitty says he has symptoms of the disease and is self-isolating.

March 30: Downing Street confirms Mr Cummings is suffering from coronavirus symptoms and is self-isolating.

March 31: Durham police are ‘made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city’.

The force said officers ‘made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.

‘In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.’

April 5: An unnamed neighbour tells the Mirror and the Guardian Mr Cummings was seen in his parents’ garden.

‘I got the shock of my life as I looked over to the gates and saw him,’ they said. 

March 30 – April 6: The period Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield describes the family’s battle with coronavirus in the April 25 issue of the Spectator.

She makes no mention of the trip to Durham and describes the challenges of caring for their son while suffering the symptoms of Covid-19.

She says their small son nursed Mr Cummings with Ribena. 

April 12: Robert Lees, a retired chemistry teacher, claims to have seen Mr Cummings 30 miles away from his parents home in Barnard Castle. 

April 14: Mr Cummings returns to work for the first time since news he was suffering from Coronavirus emerged.

Questions are raised about his adherence to social distancing advice as he is photographed walking down Downing Street with fellow aide Cleo Watson.

April 19: A passer-by claims to have spotted Mr Cummings and his family admiring bluebells with his wife, back in Durham.

May 22: News breaks in the Mirror and the Guardian of Mr Cummings’ trip to Durham.

May 23: Downing Street stands by the PM’s chief aide, saying in a statement: ‘Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.’ 

That evening, a joint Sunday Mirror and Observer investigation reveals the two new eyewitness claims. 

He told the Sophy Ridge show: ‘I don’t have all the times and dates for you but I understand he will have travelled up there towards the end of March and stayed there, remained there for 14 days, didn’t leave the property and isolation, as per the rules and guidance.’

Mr Shapps said the latest allegations, that Mr Cummings returned to Durham on a second trip and was spotted on April 19, were untrue. 

‘I think there are more stories today that I’m seeing that he travelled backwards and forwards, accusations he then went back up to Durham again further times – I understand it is completely untrue.

‘When he came back to London, which was on April 14 I see, he has remained in London since and hasn’t been back to Durham.

‘There are all kinds of things that are being said here that are completely untrue.

‘The basic story is actually pretty straightforward. Husband and wife were ill, they hunker down, they look after their four-year-old and they don’t move until they are better.

‘And coming back down to London afterwards, they would have been travelling for essential work which is always allowed as well.’

Labour’s shadow policing minister Sarah Jones this morning demanded Mr Johnson take today’s coronavirus press conference to ‘answer questions about what happened, what he knew and what he is going to do about it’. 

The first witness claimed to have seen Mr Cummings on Easter Sunday at a town 30 miles away from his parents’ Durham farm where he was self-isolating with his wife and son – despite earlier insisting he had ‘stayed put’ the whole time.

A second said they sighted Mr Cummings back in Durham on April 19, five days after he had returned to work in Westminster – suggesting he made a second 264-mile trip to the North East.

They come after the Number 10 chief was on Friday branded a hypocrite for ignoring the same lockdown instructions to stay at home which he himself helped to craft.

Last night’s revelations in the Observer and Sunday Mirror have poured petrol on the row engulfing the PM’s aide, who the public decisively believe breached restrictions, a YouGov poll found.

Before the latest accusations of rule-breaking emerged, allies said Mr Johnson had ‘thrown a protective ring’ around his most senior lieutenant because he had a ‘compelling case’ for his trip which earned him ‘the benefit of the doubt’.

‘Breaking lockdown to see your mistress is very different from doing everything to protect your toddler,’ said one. 

The PM told friends: ‘Dominic acted within the guidance and was simply caring for his family. I now consider the matter closed.’

The premier also added: ‘It’s not like he was visiting a lover,’ suggesting Mr Cummings was not poised to suffer the same fate as Sage scientist Prof Neil Ferguson. 

Mr Johnson told allies he would not throw Mr Cummings ‘to the dogs’, according to the Sunday Times.

However last night’s claims the 48-year-old Vote Leave mastermind broke lockdown rules repeatedly is likely to test the PM’s support, with one Downing Street insider branding Mr Cummings’s behaviour ‘Domnishambles’.

Number 10 furiously rubbished the reports and said it will not ‘waste time answering a stream of false allegations from campaigning newspapers’.

But there is growing fury inside Tory ranks at Mr Cummings’ astonishing behaviour. One Cabinet minister told the Sunday Times he had made them look like ‘hypocrites’ over the harsh lockdown measures forced upon the British public. 

And an adviser channelled Monty’ Python’s cult film The Life of Brian, saying: ‘He’s proved he’s not the Messiah, he’s actually a very naughty boy’. 

No10 was facing a fire on another front after Durham Constabulary last contradicted Downing Street’s statement that police had not spoken to Mr Cummings’s family about him travelling to Durham in late March.

The force last night released its own statement confirming officers had in fact spoken to Mr Cummings’s father Robert about the matter.   

Durham bolt-hole: The family property Mr Cummings and his family is said to have fled to during the height of the coronavirus lockdown

Mr Cummings (pictured leaving home with his son yesterday) insisted he was entitled to make the journey to get to family 

Challenged by reporters at his London home this afternoon whether his actions looked bad, a defiant Dominic Cummings said ‘who cares about good looks’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the Downing Street briefing that the No10 chief had the ‘full support’ of Boris Johnson, as he faced a barrage of questions. Mr Cummings travelled with his wife Mary Wakefield (pictured right yesterday)

Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister and a senior hardline Brexiteer like Mr Cummings, broke cover to demand the advisor be sacked today, demanding the Prime Minister ‘take back control’ of events squirming from his grasp

Boris Johnson last night mounted a determined defence of his controversial aide Dominic Cummings, telling allies: ‘It’s not like he was visiting a lover’ when he allegedly broke lockdown rules (pictured in September) 

Poll finds 68% of Britons think Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules 

More than two-thirds of Brits think Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules by driving to Durham while in self-isolation, with more than half believing he should resign, a snap poll found last night.

The survey of 3,707 adults, carried out by YouGov today, found just 28 per cent think he should stay on, and another 20 per cent on the fence.

The YouGov poll tonight also revealed Conservative voters were split over whether he should retain his position, with 41 per cent of those who responded saying he should quit while 43 per cent want him to remain as senior adviser to Boris Johnson.

Chris Curtis, political research manager at YouGov, said: ‘These are clearly troubling numbers for the Government and Mr Cummings. 

‘The public already thought that the Government was too hasty in lifting parts of lockdown and it’s likely they will be even less impressed if key public figures are perceived to have broken rules they think are not strict enough.

‘Of course, the Government will be hoping everyone quickly moves on from a story about a relatively unknown adviser, but it’s going to be tough when the public thinks he was wrong and that he should go.’   

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said at yesterday’s daily press briefing the important thing was that the 48-year-old adviser had ‘stayed put’ for two weeks once he arrived at his parents’ property in March. 

But this narrative appeared to unravel last night when a witness claimed he had sighted Mr Cummings at a town 30 miles away from his parents’ home.

Robert Lees, a retired chemistry teacher, said he saw the maverick Brexiteer and his family walking in Barnard Castle, Teesdale, on April 12.

He told the papers: ‘I was a bit gobsmacked to see him, because I know what he looks like. And the rest of the family seemed to match – a wife and child. 

‘I was pretty convinced it was him and it didn’t seem right because I assumed he would be in London.’

Calling for the aide to resign, he added: ‘I went home and told my wife, we thought he must be in London. I searched up the number plate later that day and my computer search history shows that.’

Mr Cummings was dealt a further blow by a neighbour who alleged to have seen him back in Durham on April 19, five days after he was first pictured back in Number 10.

The unnamed passer-by said he spotted the PM’s senior aide admiring the ‘lovely’ bluebells with his wife Mary Wakefield in Houghall Woods, near his parents’ farm.

It suggests Mr Cummings travelled back to the North East having returned to work in Westminster after recovering from Covid-19. 

Earlier, a defiant Mr Cummings responded ‘who cares’ when he was asked by reporters whether his actions looked bad. 

But one Number 10 insider jokingly branded his behaviour ‘Domnishambles’, a reference to the derisive term ‘omnishambles’ first used to describe an all-encompassing mess in BBC political satire The Thick Of It and then in the Commons by Ed Miliband.  

The latest claims flared-up calls for Mr Cummings to be dismissed. SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the adviser ‘must’ be fired.

He tweeted: ‘It is clear that Boris Johnson must sack Dominic Cummings. When the PMs top adviser ignores the Government’s instruction to the public not to engage in non-essential travel he has to leave office. Immediately.’ 

He has even called on the head of the civil service to investigate the ‘rule-breaking and the Tory Government’s cover-up’. 

Acting Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘If Dominic Cummings is now allowed to remain in place a moment longer, it will increasingly be the Prime Minister’s judgement that is in the spotlight.

‘Surely Boris Johnson must now recognise the actions of his top adviser are an insult to the millions who have made huge personal sacrifices to stop the spread of coronavirus.’ 

Critics have been buoyed by the weight of public opinion, with a YouGov poll finding 68 per cent of people believe Mr Cummings flouted the rules and more than half (52 per cent) thought he should resign. Just 28 per cent believe he should stay at No 10. 

A No 10 spokeswoman last night said: ‘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.

‘We will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr Cummings from campaigning newspapers.’ 

As well as taking flak for stonewalling the accusations, Downing Street has come under fire for offering a differing version of events from Durham Constabulary.

No 10 had said Saturday morning: ‘At no stage was he [Mr Cummings] or his family spoken to about this matter, as is being reported,’ and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that statement was ‘black and white’ at the daily Downing Street briefing.

But in a statement released on Saturday night, the force said: ‘Following a significant number of media inquiries over the weekend, Durham Constabulary can add the following detail.

‘On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware that Dominic Cummings had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.

‘At the request of Mr Cummings’ father, an officer made contact the following morning by telephone.

‘During that conversation, Mr Cummings’ father confirmed that his son had travelled with his family from London to the North-East and was self-isolating in part of the property.

‘Durham Constabulary deemed that no further action was required. However, the officer did provide advice in relation to security issues.

Dominic Cummings and wife Mary Wakefield, who wrote about her husband’s coronavirus battle 

The property in Durham has a series of outbuildings, and it is thought Mr Cummings stayed in one of them with his family

Mr Cummings’ parents’ farm, where he relocated with his wife and son when they came down with coronavirus symptoms 

Cummings’s ex-brother in law comes to his defence 

Dominic Cummings’s ex-brother-in-law last night rode to his defence by insisting it was ‘very, very easy’ for the PM’s chief adviser to self-isolate at his parents’ home in Durham.

Matthew Herriott, a farmer who lives close to North Lodge, said that the property includes a number of self-contained apartments attached to the main building, which are only accessible via a separate entrance.

It meant that Cummings, his wife Mary Wakefield and their young son were able to stay in the £800,0000 sandstone farmhouse without coming into contact with his parents, Morag and Robert.

There are also outbuildings on the estate where guests are believed to stay from time to time.

In a statement yesterday, Downing Street insisted Mr Cummings’s sister shopped for the family and left everything outside the door.

‘North Lodge is without question big enough to accommodate that amount of people,’ Mr Herriott told The Mail on Sunday. ‘It’s one building but it’s split into separate apartments so it’s very, very easy for everyone to self-isolate.

‘It has several extensions, if you will, so it’s more than adequate to live there and not to have any contact with anybody whatsoever. It is also set in an acre of grounds I believe.’ 

Mr Cummings claims he travelled to Durham so his parents, Robert, 73, and Morag, 71, could look after his four-year-old son if both he and his wife were stricken by the virus.

Mr Cummings swatted away questions from reporters yesterday, saying: ‘It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think,’ he said.

He also berated photographers for not following social distancing rules by staying two metres apart.

His mother also let rip on a reporter. Speaking from the family home via intercom, she said: ‘I have got one thing to say, Dominic’s uncle died on Palm Sunday and you should be ashamed of yourself.’   

A host of Cabinet ministers also rallied round. Michael Gove, Mr Cummings’ former boss, tweeted: ‘Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.’ Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock also offered backing.  

But a tweet from Mr Johnson’s account this afternoon underlined the issue ministers face explaining the situation. 

‘If you have symptoms of #coronavirus, you should self-isolate and get yourself tested,’ the message said. 

The government guidance at the time said that those self-isolating ‘must stay at home and not leave the house’, as well as ‘staying away’ from vulnerable elderly people. In an account of their ordeal published last month, Mr Cummings’ journalist wife Mary Wakefield also described how he was nursed by their small son with Ribena – suggesting he stayed with them throughout. The PM’s official spokesman told reporters at the time that Mr Cummings was isolating ‘at home’.  

Repeatedly grilled on the controversy at the briefing this evening, Mr Shapps said: ‘The important thing is that everyone remains in the same place whilst they are on lockdown which is exactly what happened in I think the case you’re referring to with Mr Cummings.

‘The prime minister will have known he was staying put and he didn’t come out again until he was feeling better.’

Mr Shapps added: ‘The guidance says if you’re living with children keep following this advice to the best of your ability.

‘However, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible depending therefore on circumstances.’  

Suggesting the guidance was down to individual interpretation, Mr Shapps said: ‘It’s for an individual to make the decision ‘how do I make sure I’ve got enough support around the family’, particularly in the case you are referring to with a potential of both parents ending up being ill and having a young child to look after.

‘How do you have that support network around them, and the decision here was to go to that location and stay in that location. They don’t then need to move around from there and so it would be for each individual to work out the best way to do that, which is what’s happened here.’

Mr Shapps added: ‘You have to get yourself in lockdown and do that in the best and most practical way – and I think that will be different for different people under whatever circumstances, their particular family differences, happen to dictate, that’s all that’s happened in this case.’

On whether Mr Johnson knew of Mr Cummings activities, Mr Shapps pointed out that the PM had been ill himself at the time.  ‘I can tell you the PM provides Mr Cummings with his full support and Mr Cummings has provided a full statement,’ he said.  

Asked to clarify guidance about travelling during lockdown, Dr Jenny Harries said it was ‘clear’ someone with symptoms should self-isolate along with their family.

But she said all the guidance had a ‘common sense’ element about safeguarding. Dr Harries said: ‘So we don’t want an elderly person sitting at home without their medication because they feel they can’t come out.’

Dr Harries said if there was a ‘safeguarding issue’ where a child had ‘no support’, that was also an issue.

‘There’s always a safeguarding clause in all of the advice,’ she said, adding: ‘The interpretation of that advice is probably for others.’  

Sources close to Mr Cummings say there is ‘zero chance’ of him quitting.  

Dorset police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill warned th that the breach will be thrown in the face of officers as they tried to restrain sun-seeking visitors on what is expected to be a hot bank holiday weekend.

Mr Underhill said the furore would inevitably be cited by people flocking to beauty spots and beaches in Dorset this weekend. 

‘It is unfortunate the timing of this as it is going to be the busiest weekend Dorset has seen this year,’ he said.   

The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner weighed in to say Mr Cummings’s actions had made policing the lockdown ‘much harder’.

In a statement, former Labour MP David Jamieson said: ‘The police’s job of enforcing the lockdown has been made much harder after both the actions of Dominic Cummings travelling over 260 miles and the flexibility with which the Government now seem to interpret the guidance. 

He urged the PM to sack his adviser ‘to restore public confidence and some credibility to his handling of this dreadful Covid-19 crisis’.

Tory aides who have felt the wrath of Mr Cummings were also withering about his controversy. 

‘Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,’ one told MailOnline. ‘But I’m sure they won’t concede him.’ 

Another agreed that Mr Cummings would not go. ‘He’s too needed,’ they said. ‘Who else will be willing to fulfill the role he’s created?’   

His wife, the journalist Mary Wakefield, wrote about his struggle with the disease and suggested he was holed up at their London residence, as did the Prime Minister’s spokesperson at the time in late March. 

Neighbours were ‘shocked’ to see him in the North East a few days after he was pictured in Westminster and announced to be isolating with Covid-19 symptoms. 

The neighbour, who did not want to give their name, told the Mirror: ‘I got the shock of my life. There was a child, presumably his little boy, running around in front. I recognised Dominic Cummings, he’s a very distinctive figure. 

‘I was really annoyed. I thought ‘it’s OK for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London’. 

‘I sympathise with him wanting to do that but other people are not allowed to do that. It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us.’ 

On April 14, the aide was pictured back in Westminster for the first time since his coronavirus recovery.   

Mr Cummings was not slapped with the £60 fine for breaching the rules, which were ushered in on March 26.

Coronavirus laws ushered in on March 26 stated: ‘You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home. The only exception is if they need help, such as having shopping or medication dropped off.’  

Several days later, on April 5, Mr Cummings allegedly remained at the property in Durham and was spotted by a neighbour of Mr Cummings’ parents, 

The government issued its latest slides showing the status of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK this evening

Who knifed Dominic Cummings? Speculation mounts that ‘dark forces’ are behind exposé on aide who dared to take on Whitehall – as Opposition MPs ask just what DID Boris Johnson know about ‘cover-up’

By Glen Owen, Harry Cole and Brendan Carlin for the Mail on Sunday 

The explosive revelations about Dominic Cummings come against the backdrop of growing tensions between the maverick aide and the Whitehall establishment – leading some Tory MPs to speculate about whether ‘dark forces’ were behind the exposé.

Shortly before the story broke in two Left-leaning newspapers yesterday, sources claimed that Mr Cummings had been at the centre of an attempt to oust Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, something which No 10 sources deny.

The claims have circulated in the wake of the appointment of the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary, Simon Case, to the previously-dormant role as No 10’s own Permanent Secretary. 

The move has been described by one political aide as ‘a shot across Sedwill’s bows’ – but has also been seen as an attempt to dilute Mr Cummings’s all-pervasive influence.

Sources claimed that Mr Cummings had been at the centre of an attempt to oust Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill (left), something which No 10 sources deny. The claims have circulated in the wake of the appointment of the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary, Simon Case,  (right) to the previously-dormant role as No 10’s own Permanent Secretary

BBC’s Kuenssberg trolled by left-wingers 

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg faced fierce criticism yesterday after appearing to defend Dominic Cummings following reports that he had flouted lockdown rules.

Within 30 minutes of the story breaking on Friday night, Miss Kuenssberg shared a rebuttal from an unnamed source claiming that the Prime Minister’s senior aide’s 260-mile trip from London to his parents’ home in Durham was ‘within [the] guidelines’.

In response to the Daily Mirror journalist who broke the story, Miss Kuenssberg tweeted: ‘Source says his trip was within guidelines as Cummings went to stay with his parents so they could help with childcare while he and his wife were ill – they insist no breach of lockdown’. 

Her reply was immediately met by a chorus of condemnation from Labour-supporting trolls, with some accusing her of being a ‘mouthpiece for the Government’ and a ‘Tory stooge’.

As of last night, her reply had received almost 16,000 responses.

Piers Morgan described her explanation as ‘absolute nonsense’, while former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell demanded Miss Kuenssberg ‘get a grip’ for repeatedly relying on ‘sources close to Dominic Cummings’.

Philosopher A. C. Grayling also took issue, tweeting: ‘It’s time to end anonymous ‘No 10 source’ (=Cummings) briefings (=to Laura Kuenssberg) =lies, propaganda, spin, dead cats etc.’

Sir Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, said: ‘My trust in Laura Kuenssberg, for whom I had some respect, is fading fast.’ 

Last night, the hashtag ‘sackkuenssberg’ was trending on Twitter. However, others leapt to her defence. Former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: ‘Whoever the villain is today, it isn’t Laura Kuenssberg.’  

Mr Cummings has been a long-standing critic of the Whitehall establishment, describing the permanent Civil Service as ‘an idea for the history books’ and proposing the abolition of senior civil servants’ roles.

A senior source admitted that tensions had been ‘running high’ in No 10, with many officials exhausted by the Covid-19 crisis, but played down the idea that Mr Cummings had been the victim of a ‘hit job’ by his enemies in Government.

Mr Case, an experienced mandarin and a former security official at GCHQ, has been appointed to serve as a ‘bridge’ between Mr Johnson’s political team and the Civil Service, in an effective admission that the crisis has put the current No 10 structure under huge strain. 

Mr Johnson personally phoned Prince William last week to ask his permission for Mr Case to be seconded to Downing Street to help tackle the crisis.

To add to the tensions in No 10, and the sense that Sir Mark’s wings are being clipped, Whitehall official Helen Macnamara has been promoted to Deputy Cabinet Secretary as well as head of the Cabinet Secretariat.

The role coordinating the work of Cabinet had previously been held by Sir Mark. One source added: ‘There is a view that a few things have been kept out of the Prime Minister’s view by Sir Mark and that the PM needs a better grip on what he is up to. He’s clearly been too thinly spread and now that’s changing’ 

One Tory MP said: ‘Dom has made enemies everywhere, and you can’t help wondering whether dark forces have been at play to exact their revenge.’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended Mr Cummings, as he faced a barrage of questions about the case at yesterday’s Downing Street press conference.

Mr Shapps went out of his way to insist that the aide had been doing what was best for his four-year-old son, saying: ‘In moments of crisis, we seek to have our family around us’. 

But he appeared irritated that he was forced to deal with repeated questions about Mr Cummings rather than the raft of transport announcements – including a cross-Pennine dual-carriageway plan – he was making. 

Mr Shapps insisted that Mr Johnson was aware of his key aide’s decision to travel to County Durham so his young son would be safely looked after, saying: ‘The Prime Minister would have known he was staying put, and he didn’t come out again until he was feeling better’.

Pressed on the lockdown advice, deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said interpretation of the rules was for others, adding: ‘All of the guidance has a common sense element to it’ – including safeguarding children.   

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