The Conservative revolt over Dominic Cummings’ decision to drive across England during the lockdown has grown, as a government minister resigned and the leader of the Scottish Tories joined 24 Conservative MPs in calling for Boris Johnson’s chief adviser to consider his position.
Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray, stepped down as a Scotland Office minister, saying he accepted Cummings felt he had acted in the best interests of his family when fearing he had coronavirus but these were “decisions others felt were not available to them”.
“While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’ interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked,” he said on Tuesday.
“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”
In a sign of growing unrest among Tories in Scotland, Jackson Carlaw, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, told the BBC Cummings should consider his position.
The developments deepened the crisis engulfing No 10, with at least 24 backbench Tory MPs calling on Cummings to resign because of his actions and the damage to the government following his attempt to explain himself on Monday.
A further seven Conservatives MPs previously suggested over the bank holiday weekend that he should resign but have not made clear whether his press conference from the Downing Street rose garden was enough to change that view.
Tory MPs began to speak out as initial polling suggested public support has drained away from Johnson because of his backing for Cummings.
A SavantaComRes survey showed the prime minister’s net approval rating had fallen 20 points, down from 19 to -1, over the course of four days during the Cummings crisis. Polling for YouGov found 71% of people said Cummings did break lockdown rules, slightly up from 68% when asked on Saturday. It found this was the majority view across voters from all major parties and among both leavers and remainers.
Among those to break their silence on Tuesday to call for Cummings to go were Harriett Baldwin, a former Treasury minister, Mark Harper, a former chief whip, and Stephen Hammond, a former transport minister.
One of the new intake of MPs, Simon Jupp, also went public on Tuesday, saying he felt “anger, disappointment and frustration” at Cummings’ actions and that the adviser should resign.
The MP for East Devon, wrote on his Facebook page: “We are all making significant sacrifices and coping with situations we couldn’t imagine just a few months ago. Many of us, including myself, have lost people in our lives and haven’t been able to see family and friends. It’s been incredibly tough for everyone …
“Although I believe his [Cummings’] actions were motivated by a father’s desire to do what he felt was necessary to protect his family in exceptional circumstances, if placed in the same situation I wouldn’t have made the same decisions and would have since considered my position.”
And Jupp’s Tory colleague William Wragg, who chairs parliament’s public administration and constitutional affairs select committee, tweeted: “We cannot throw away valuable public and political good will any longer. It’s humiliating and degrading to their office to see ministers put out agreed lines in defence of an adviser. This is a time of national emergency and our focus must be unrelenting. We owe it to the nation.”
Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the defence select committee, said he thought Johnson should order an independent investigation into Cummings’ conduct.
The Tory backbencher Peter Bone told the Guardian he still believed Cummings should resign. “The rose garden interview just confirmed to me that he had driven up to Durham when we were in a strict lockdown. He absolutely should resign,” he said.
“I have 400 emails from people and I’m sitting here with my colleague going through every one, and we’d rather be doing some case work but we just have so many people to reply to.
“I think more ministers will resign. None of this is organised. This is individual MPs making up their own minds. There’s no orchestration – this is MPs looking at their constituents’ comments and deciding what to do.”
Another Tory MP said they expected more junior ministers to quit over Cummings’ lockdown breaches.
“I would expect it to happen because MPs are being asked to defend something they know is wrong and they still don’t know the full facts on. I fully expect more people to stand down. A lot of cabinet ministers owe their jobs to Dominic Cummings but I would expect to see people resign at the junior minister level,” they said.
“The pressure from constituents is immense and Douglas Ross’s resignation is very understandable given how thin his majority is, and it’s the same in England and in the red wall in particular.”
However, Johnson has rallied behind his senior aide – a key architect of Brexit and the prime minister’s election victory – and marshalled top cabinet ministers, including Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock, to do the same.
Michael Gove, a Cabinet Office minister, insisted on Tuesday that “fair-minded people” would have to make up their own minds.
The longtime ally of Cummings was sent out to defend him in broadcast interviews the day after the aide gave a statement explaining why he drove 264 miles from London to Durham during the lockdown and risked spreading coronavirus.Police, medics and scientists continued to say that Cummings’ actions risked undermining the lockdown and public health advice.
Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, said officers were frustrated by the case, which made it difficult to see the future role of the police in controlling lockdown.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s a lot of confusion and it feels like there’s quite a gap between the public narrative and narrative of ministers about the lockdown and what’s happening on the street.
“I think it’s quite hard to see the role the police have in the future – the rules about the reasons for travel are now very confused, when you see the crowds on Bournemouth and Southend beaches and other places yesterday, it’s hard to see what role the police have in trying to control that.”
Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, told the same programme: “Because of the way this story has unfolded there is certainly concern among our members, health leaders, that it could damage staff and public confidence in official guidance.
In a round of broadcast interviews, Gove was asked:
• Why Cummings went back to work in No 10 after suspecting that his wife could have contracted coronavirus, risking spreading the virus further among colleagues. Gove said she was unwell but did not have official coronavirus symptoms of a cough or fever at that time.
• Why the aide decided that same night to drive 264 miles to Durham to stay on his parents’ estate because of concerns that he and his wife had coronavirus, despite government instructions to self-isolate at home. Gove said he had been acting out of concern that they would be unable to care for their child, despite neither of them having classic coronavirus symptoms at that point.
• Whether it was acceptable for them to have risked spreading coronavirus from the hotspot of London to rural Durham where there were few cases, given their son later needed hospital treatment in the north-east. Gove said his actions had been appropriate.
• Why people should accept his explanation that he needed to make a 60-mile round trip to a beauty spot with his family to test his eyesight before travelling back to London. Gove said it was safe for him to have driven and that Cummings had been “preparing for work”.
• Why the aide needed to seek help with possible backup childcare in the north-east when long-time friends in London could have helped, including Gove himself. Gove said he would not have expected Cummings to have turned to him instead of close family.
Tory MPs suggesting Cummings should go
Since Monday’s press conference (24):
Before Monday’s press conference (7):