Spectator USA

Skip to Content

Europe World

Dominic Cummings: Why I traveled to Durham

‘I believe that in all circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally’

This is a transcript of Dominic Cummings’s statement:

Around midnight on Thursday, the 26th of March, I spoke to the Prime Minister. He told me that he tested positive for COVID. We discussed the national emergency arrangements for No. 10, given his isolation and what I would do in No. 10 the next day. The next morning, I went to work as usual. I was in a succession of meetings about this emergency.

I suddenly got a call from my wife who was at home looking after our four-year-old child. She told me she suddenly felt badly ill. She’d vomited and felt like she might pass out. And there’ll be nobody to look after our child. None of our usual childcare options were available. They were alone in the house. After very briefly telling some officials in No. 10 what had happened, I immediately left the building, ran to a car and drove home. This was reported by the media at the time who saw me run out of No. 10. After a couple of hours, my wife felt a bit better. There were many critical things at work and she urged me to return in the afternoon and I did. That evening, I returned home and discussed the situation with my wife.

She was ill. She might have COVID, though she did not have a cough or a fever. At this point, most of those who I work with most closely, including the prime minister himself and others who sit within 15 feet of me every day, either had had symptoms and had returned to work or were absent with symptoms. I thought there was a distinct probability that I had already caught the disease. I had a few conflicting thoughts in my mind. First, I was worried that if my wife and I were both seriously ill, possibly hospitalized, there was nobody in London that we could reasonably ask to look after our child and exposed themselves to COVID. My wife had felt on the edge of not being able to look after him safely a few hours earlier. I was thinking, what if the same or worse happens to me? There’s nobody here that I can reasonably ask to help. The regulations make clear, I believe the risks to the health of a small child were an exceptional situation, and I had a way of dealing with this that minimized risk to others.

Second, I thought that if I did not develop symptoms, then I might be able to return to work to help deal with the crisis. There were ongoing discussions about testing government staff in order to keep people like me working rather than isolating. At this point, on the Friday, advisers such as myself had not been included in the list of who were tested. But it was possible that this might change the following week. Therefore, I thought that after testing negative, I could continue working.

In fact, this did not change and special advisers were not tested and I have never been tested. Third, there had been numerous false stories in the media about my actions and statements regarding COVID. In particular, there were stories suggesting that I had opposed lockdown and even then I did not care about many deaths. For years, I have warned of the dangers of pandemics. Last year I wrote about the possible threat of coronaviruses and the urgent need for planning. The truth is, that I had argued for lockdown. I did not oppose it. But these stories had created a very bad atmosphere around my home. I was subject to threats of violence. People came to my house shouting threats. There were posts on social media, encouraging attacks. There were many media reports on TV showing pictures of my house. I was also worried that given the severity of this emergency, this situation would get worse. And I was worried about the possibility of leaving my wife and child at home all day and off into the night while I worked in No. 10. I thought the best thing to do in all the circumstances was to drive to an isolated cottage on my father’s farm. At this farm, my parents live in one house. My sister and her two children live in another house, and there was a separate cottage roughly 50 meters away from either of them. My tentative conclusion on the Friday evening was this: if we are both unable to look after our child, then my sister or nieces can look after him. My nieces are 17 and 20. They are old enough to look after him, but also young enough to be in the safest category. And they had extremely kindly volunteered to do so if needed.

But, I thought, if I do not develop symptoms and there is a testing regime in place at work, I could return to work if I tested negative. In that situation, I could leave my wife and child behind in a safe place, safe in the form of support from family for shopping in emergencies, safe in the sense of being away from home which had become a target and also safe for everybody else because they were completely isolated on a farm and could not infect anybody. Contrary to some media reports, there are no neighbors in the normal sense of the word. The nearest other homes are roughly half a mile away. So in this scenario, I thought that they could stay there for a few weeks. I could go back to work, help colleagues and everybody, including the general public, would be safe.

I did not ask the Prime Minister about this decision. He was ill himself and he had huge problems to deal with. Everyday, I have to exercise my judgment about things like this and decide what to discuss with him. I thought I would speak to him when the situation clarified over coming days, including whether I had symptoms and whether there were tests available. Arguably, this was a mistake, and I understand that some will say that I should’ve spoken to the prime minister before deciding what to do. So I drove the three of us up to Durham last night, arriving roughly at midnight. I did not stop on the way. When I worked the next morning, Saturday the 28th of March, I was in pain and clearly had COVID symptoms, including a bad headache and a serious fever.

Clearly, I could not return to work any time soon. For a day or two, we were both ill. I was in bed. My wife was ill, but not ill enough that she needed emergency help. I got worse. She got better. During the night of Thursday, the 2nd of April, my child woke up. He threw up and had a bad fever. He was very distressed. We took medical advice which was to call 999. An ambulance was sent, they assessed my child and said he must go to hospital. I could barely stand up. My wife went with him in the ambulance. I stayed at home. He stayed the night in the hospital. In the morning, my wife called to say that he had recovered, seemed back to normal. Doctors had tested him for COVID and said that they should return home. There were no taxis. I drove to the hospital, picked them up, then returned home. I did not leave the car or have any contact with anybody at any point on this short trip. The hospital’s, I don’t know what, roughly five miles or something away two miles, three miles four miles, something like that. A few days later, the hospital said that he tested negative. After I started to recover, one day in the second week, I tried to walk outside the house. At one point the three of us walked into woods owned by my father, next to the cottage that I was staying in. Some people saw us in these woods from a distance, but we had no interaction with them. We had not left the property. We were on private land. By Saturday, the 11th of April, I was still feeling weak and exhausted. But other than that, I had no COVID symptoms. I thought that I’d be able to return to work the following week, possibly part time.

It was obvious that the situation was extremely serious. The Prime Minister had been gravely ill. Colleagues were dealing with huge problems and many were ill or isolating. I felt like I ought to return to work if possible, given I was now recovering in order to relieve the intense strain at No. 10. That Saturday, I sought expert medical advice. I explained our family’s symptoms and all the timings, and I asked if it was safe to return to work on Monday, Tuesday, seek child care and so on. I was told that it was safe and I could return to work and seek childcare.

On Sunday 12 April, 15 days after I had first displayed symptoms, I decided to return to work. My wife was very worried, particularly given my eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease. She didn’t want to risk a nearly 300-mile drive with our child, given how ill I had been. We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely. We drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle town. We did not visit the castle. We did not walk around the town. We parked by a river. My wife and I discussed the situation. We agreed that I could drive safely, we should turn around, go home. I felt a bit sick. We walked about 10 to 15 meters from the car to the river bank nearby. We sat there for about 15 minutes. We had no interactions with anybody. I felt better. We returned the car. An elderly gentleman walking nearby appeared to recognize me. My wife wished him Happy Easter from a distance, but we had no other interaction.

We headed home. On the way home, our child needed the toilet. He was in the back seat of the car. We pulled over to the side of the road, my wife and child jumped out into the woods by the side of the road. They were briefly outside. I briefly joined them. They played for a little bit and then I got out of the car, went outside. We were briefly in the woods. We saw some people at a distance. But at no point did we break any social distancing rules. We then got back in the car and went home.

We agreed that if I continued to improve then the next day, we should return to London and I would go back to work. We returned to London on the evening of Monday 13 April, Easter Monday. I went back to work in No. 10 the next morning. At no point between arriving and leaving Durham did any of the three of us enter my parents’ house or my sister’s house. Our only exchanges were shouted conversations at a distance. My sister shopped for us and left everything outside.

In the last few days, there have been many media reports that I returned to Durham after 13 April. All these stories are false. There is a particular report that I returned there on 19 April. Photos and data on my phone prove this to be false. And local CCTV, if it exists, would also prove that I’m telling the truth that I was in London on that day. I was not in Durham.

During this two-week period, my mother’s brother died with COVID. There are media reports that this had some influence on my behavior. These reports are false. This private matter did not affect my movements. None of us saw him. None of us attended his funeral. In this very complex situation, I tried to exercise my judgment the best I could.

I believe that in all circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally, balancing the safety of my family and the extreme situation in No. 10 and the public interest in effective government to which I could contribute.

I was involved in decisions affecting millions of people, and I thought that I should try to help as much as I could do. I can understand that some people will argue that I should have stayed at my home in London throughout.

I understand these views. I know the intense hardship and sacrifice that the entire country has had to go through. However, I respectfully disagree. The legal rules inevitably do not cover all circumstances, including those that I found myself in. I thought and I think today that the rules, including those regarding small children in extreme circumstances, allowed me to exercise my judgment about the situation I found myself in, including the way that my London home had become a target — and all the complexity of the situation.

I accept, of course, that there is room for reasonable disagreement about this. I could also understand some people think I should not have driven at all anywhere.

But I had taken medical expert medical advice. It was 15 days after symptoms. I’d been told that I could return to work and employ childcare. I think it was reasonable and sensible to make a short journey before embarking on a five-hour drive to see whether I was in a fit state to do this. The alternative was to stay in Durham rather than going back to work and contributing to the government’s efforts. I believe I made the right judgment, though I can understand that others may disagree with that.

I’ve explained all of the above to the Prime Minister. At some point during the first week where we were both sick and in bed, I mentioned to him what I had done. Unsurprisingly, given the condition we were in, neither of us remember the conversation in any detail. I did not make my movements public at the time because my London home was already a target. I did not believe that I was obliged to make my parents’ and my sister’s home a target for harassment as well. I understand that millions of people have seen media coverage of this issue. I know that millions have endured awful hardship, including personal tragedies, over the past few months, and people are suffering every day. And I know the British people hate the idea of unfairness. I wanted to explain what I thought, what I did and why, over this period, because I think that people like me who helped to make the rules should be accountable for their actions.

I’m happy to answer questions from the media who are here.

Laura Kuenssberg: Thank you very much, Mr Cummings. Do you regret what you did? Because many people in this country have made heartbreaking sacrifices in the last couple of months in order to stick to the rules that you were a part of putting together. And many people may have listened to you and think you made your own interpretation. And do you understand, for some people, it seems as if there was one version of the rules for you. And one version of the rules for everyone else.

DC: Thank you, Laura. No, I don’t, I don’t regret what I did. As I said, I think reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in these circumstances. But I think that what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances.

In terms of the rules, I think that the rules make clear that if you’re dealing with small children, then that could be, that can be, exceptional circumstances. And I think the situation that I was in was exceptional circumstances. And I think that the way that I dealt with it was the least risk to everybody concerned, if my wife and I had both been unable to look after our four-year-old.

LK:It may sound to many people this afternoon, though, that you’re using a loophole that was in complete contrast to the message people heard day after day from No. 10 of stay at home, stay at home, stay at home. Do you understand why some people are really angry about this, not just respectfully disagree: that they’re furious?

DC: I certainly do. I’ve seen some of the media obviously over the last couple of days and I’m not surprised that a lot of people are very angry and lots of people I know if — if you’re someone who was sitting at home watching a lot of the media over the last three days, then I think lots of people would be very angry. And I completely understand that. But I think — I hope and think that today, when I’ve actually explained all of the circumstances about it — I think people realize this is a very complicated, tricky situation. And I was trying to weigh up a lot of different things. Some people might have behaved differently in some ways. As I said, you know, arguably it was a mistake that I didn’t call the Prime Minister on the Friday night and I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. But I have to make decisions like that every day. And yes, I understand the people watching the media could be very upset about what’s happened, but I’ve explained why.

LK: Do you want to offer any regret, any apology to people who didn’t have the ability to make the decisions that you did, who didn’t have the resources to do what you did?

As I said, I’ve obviously thought a lot about what I did over this period, what things I could have done better with this. Things I could have done better in general in dealing with the whole crisis. There’s definitely a lot of things that I could have done better over the last few months. But I think what I did in this 14 days, I think that I behaved reasonably.

Robert Peston:So just to be absolutely clear in this 14-day period and subsequently, apart from one visit to Durham and back, and a trip to Barnard Castle, neither you nor Mary have been anywhere else at all. Also, millions of people haven’t seen their parents for months now. Can you just tell us a bit more about the nature of your contact with your parents? And then, finally, your own scientists are worried. They said this last night that by introducing an element of personal discretion into the interpretation of the rules, you are putting lives at risk. What would you say to them and what would you say to us to reassure us?

DC: Thanks Robert. You asked whether it was true that over this 14-day period, that we didn’t go anywhere else apart from off in the car on day 15. No, that’s not correct.

Peston: Apart from the trip to hospital.

DC: The trip to hospital, yes, exactly. And then there was the drive on day 15, but apart from that, neither of us left.

Peston: And nothing since either?

DC:Nothing since then in terms of?

Peston: Just trips that break the rules as it were.

DC: No. You know, I left. Well, I’m not exactly sure where the boundaries of London are, but as far as I am aware, the only time I left London since the Tuesday the 14th, was to go to Chequers for meetings with the Prime Minister.

Peston: And that will apply to Mary too because obviously you are a household?

DC: Yes, I mean Mary and I have been together since we returned.

Peston: And then on this issue of contact with your parents?

DC: On the issue of contact with my parents. So, neither Mary or I have been tested. Neither of us could be definitively sure about what our situation was. Mary had been ill and then recovered. She hadn’t had a cough, a fever. I pretty clearly seemed to have Covid and talking to medical experts they thought that but I wasn’t tested. But obviously our default mode was assume that all three of us have got it. So I was in a cottage 50 meters or so away from everybody else. Obviously we kept very, very far away from them. There are various reports that I visited them, that I stayed with them. That’s all completely untrue. My parents are in their 70s, obviously I did not want to give them this disease, and so we stayed very far away. We did have some conversations, but you know, we were on a farm and they were shouted conversations at a distance. They weren’t some of the things that have been reported.

***
Get three months of The Spectator for just $9.99 — plus a Spectator Parker pen
***

DC: In terms of introducing a question of discretion. I don’t, I’m not seeking to introduce anything or any element of discretion. To me, the rules are there, they talk about what to do with exceptional circumstances and small children. I was trying to weigh up on that Friday night conflicting things between what happens if we’re both ill; who’s going to look after him; what’s the safest way of doing that; is there a way in which I might go back to work the following week if the whole testing system changes, which was being discussed but did not, in fact, happen. I was trying to weigh all of those things up. Given that, I don’t believe that I broke the rules.

Peston: If it’s not breaking the rules it’s that the SPIP and SPIM members last night said that they think you introduced the idea that if your personal circumstances don’t allow then you can do something different from what the simple rules say. And they are very worried that will make it much harder to contain the spread of disease.

DC: Well, I think that they’re right to be worried that coverage over the last couple of days could encourage people to behave in certain ways. But with great respect to them, they made those comments without knowing what had actually happened. And actually that’s one of the reasons why I think now it would have been better to have made this statement earlier.

DC: But as it was, well, I didn’t. And it would have been better to have done it earlier, for sure. And that would have also I think have also stopped some of those guys themselves being confused by what they read.


Sign up to receive a daily summary of the best of Spectator USA


Show comments
Close