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Government to try to move focus away from Cummings

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Image copyright Reuters The government is to try to shift focus away from a row about a senior aide’s travels during the coronavirus lockdown – and on to plans to further ease restrictions in England.Dominic Cummings said he believed he had acted “reasonably” and legally when he drove 260 miles from home in March.His statement…

Dominic CummingsImage copyright
Reuters

The government is to try to shift focus away from a row about a senior aide’s travels during the coronavirus lockdown – and on to plans to further ease restrictions in England.

Dominic Cummings said he believed he had acted “reasonably” and legally when he drove 260 miles from home in March.

His statement on Monday overshadowed Boris Johnson’s new plans to reopen all non-essential shops in England in June.

Mr Johnson said shops will be able to open if they meet safety guidelines.

Opposition MPs will meet later to discuss how to hold both the prime minister and Mr Cummings to account.

Mr Cummings has been facing calls to resign after it emerged he had driven his child and ill wife from London to County Durham during lockdown.

But at his news conference, held two-and-a-half hours before the official government daily briefing, the former Vote Leave chief said he did not regret his actions.

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Media captionDominic Cummings’ full statement on lockdown row

On the subject of why he then drove his family to the town of Barnard Castle – 15 days after he had displayed symptoms – he said he was testing his eyesight to see if he could make the trip back down to London. He explained that he had experienced some eyesight problems during his illness.

Following the conference, several government ministers rallied in support of Mr Cummings, with many writing on Twitter that it was “time to move on”.

Dominic Cummings’ rose garden confessional was a bold move designed to take the drama out of a crisis.

But giving detailed answers to why he at the very least broke the spirit of the lockdown rules does not answer the fundamental question now – is his continued presence in Downing Street more of a hindrance than a help to Boris Johnson?

Tempers may have cooled slightly on the Conservative backbenches, but there are still calls for him to go, both private and public.

And some senior Conservative MPs are still aghast at how much political capital the prime minister has burned through to keep Mr Cummings at his side. Opposition leaders still intend to push for his departure.

The man respected by Mr Johnson for judging the public mood has made himself famous for falling foul of that opinion.

His explanations may ease for some of the anger. But in Westminster and beyond, it will not disappear overnight.

And when the prime minister is interrogated by senior MPs on Wednesday his decisions over Dominic Cummings will surely be on the list.

Read more from Laura.

Labour has criticised Mr Cummings for failing to apologise for his actions, while other parties continue to call for him to be sacked.

Boris Johnson said he regretted the “confusion and anger” caused by the row but continued to back Mr Cummings.

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Media captionBoris Johnson responds to a question about Dominic Cummings’ drive to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight

Retailers have welcomed the prime minister’s announcement that all shops can reopen from 15 June, provided they meet new social distancing and hygiene measures to protect customers and staff from the virus.

He said the change would depend on premises being “Covid-secure” and on the country making progress towards meeting the five tests set out by the government as being crucial to lifting the lockdown restrictions.

Latest government figures show the number of people to die with coronavirus in the UK rose by 121 to 36,914 on Monday.

In other developments:

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