Boris Johnson flatly dismissed the calls for an official inquiry into Dominic Cummings today as he was grilled by senior MPs, saying the outcry was just a ‘political ding dong’.
The PM said he ‘totally understood public indignation’ about the situation, but insisted some of the allegations about his chief aide were ‘not correct’ and urged people to ‘move on’.
Pushed on whether the Cabinet Secretary should carry out a formal investigation, Mr Johnson said there had been plenty of ‘autobiography’ from Mr Cummings and it would not be a ‘good use of official time’ as everyone was working ‘flat out’ on the coronavirus response.
The comments came as Mr Johnson appeared before the Liaison Committee this afternoon, with the row over Mr Cummings’ 260-mile trip to Durham during lockdown still threatening to tear the Tories to pieces.
The party’s poll lead has been slashed by nine points in a week – thought to be the biggest drop in a decade. And despite the desperate plea for the focus to shift on to other subjects, nearly two-third say the story remains important.
The Tory civil war has been escalating again, with an MP accusing his colleagues of ‘declaring no confidence’ in the PM.
Devizes MP Danny Kruger said ‘one wing’ of the party was ‘going bonkers’ and comparing the alleged lockdown breach to ‘the invasion of Suez’.
But in a sign of the depth of the devastating rift, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted Mr Cummings ‘clearly’ did break the rules.
A private conference call with government whips and the new intake of Conservative MPs today appears to have smoothed over matters somewhat, with no more outright calls for the adviser to quit.
Amid fierce questioning from MPs at the committee hearing this afternoon, Mr Johnson was asked whether the government’s ‘moral authority’ had been compromised.
‘This has really been going on for several days now – in the media at least,’ he said.
‘I, of course, am deeply sorry for all the hurt and pain and anxiety that people have been going through throughout this period – this country has been going through a frankly most difficult time.
‘We are asking people to do quite exceptionally tough things, separating them from their families.’
Mr Johnson said he would not be adding to his previous comments on Mr Cummings and said the public wanted politicians to focus on ‘uniting our message’ and ‘focusing on their needs’.
Northern Ireland committee chair Simon Hoare – one of around 40 Tory MPs baying for Mr Cummings’ resignation – warned the PM the nation will be ‘far less energetic’ about obeying future restrictions as ‘a direct result of the activities of your senior adviser’.
Mr Hoare asked what MPs should tell constituents who ask ‘if other people don’t abide by it why on earth should we’ because ‘we know what your views are, frankly Prime Minister, I don’t think anybody understands why you hold those views’.
Mr Johnson replied: ‘I don’t think that’s true about how the British people will respond to the next phases, to how to work the test and trace system, I don’t think that’s how they responded at all throughout the crisis.
‘If, just suppose for a second that you were right, which I don’t accept, all the more reason now for us to be consistent and clear in our message driving those key messages.’
Mr Johnson said he had seen evidence to prove that some of the allegations made against Mr Cummings were false.
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