‘Red wall’ Tory MPs criticise Cummings over Barnard Castle visit

The three new “red wall” Tory MPs elected to County Durham constituencies in last December’s general election issued a joint statement on Tuesday evening criticising Dominic Cummings’ travel decisions but stopping short of saying whether he should resign or be sacked.

Talking to the Financial Times after the statement was issued, Richard Holden, Conservative MP for North West Durham, one of the red wall seats, said: “We don’t have control over his job.”

He added: “It’s a matter for him and the prime minister.” He declined to say whether he and his MP co-signatories thought Mr Cummings should go.

The controversy over Mr Cummings’ trips during lockdown has raised fears among Conservatives that it might alienate voters whose switch to the Tories in December helped deliver the party an 80-seat majority, its biggest in decades. Many Durham voters have expressed anger at the actions of the prime minister’s adviser during lockdown.

In their joint statement, issued online, Mr Holden, Dehenna Davison, MP for Bishop Auckland, and Paul Howell, MP for Sedgefield, said: “Like many of our constituents, we have spent the last few days with a feeling of disappointment, anger and frustration.”

Many of their constituents had made incredible sacrifices, they said; some had lost their lives.

“In such a situation, nothing is more important than public confidence in the actions and messages from our government,” their statement read, praising the government’s “phenomenal effort” to provide support, reinforced by individuals and groups at community level.

It went on: “The last thing we want to see is this enormous national collective effort being undermined by the irresponsible actions of individuals.”

The MPs say they have been “relentlessly demanding that the prime minister’s adviser give an account of the timeline of his visit to Co Durham and answer the valid questions of ourselves and our constituents.”

Mr Cummings’ personal statement dealt, they say, with a number of concerns, “such as the misleading Guardian story about the police and the untrue story in the Mirror concerning allegations of multiple family trips to his parents”.

They continue: “Overall, we believe his actions to be motivated out of his desire as a parent to do what he thought was necessary in protecting his family.”

But in a comment that clearly seeks to distance themselves from him, they add: “However, in the same circumstances, none of us would have made the decisions he made — particularly over the visit to Barnard Castle.” The market town, to which Mr Cummings said he drove to test his eyesight after recovering from coronavirus symptoms, is in Ms Davison’s constituency.

The three say they also closely followed the statements from Durham constabulary as they clarified what had happened.

This situation, they add, is creating a distraction from the government’s work in combating coronavirus and has meant their having to devote “substantial time and energy” away from their constituents.

Mr Holden said they had received a huge number of emails about Mr Cummings’ actions, “some supportive but a lot not”.


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