A debacle over Dominic Cummings’ journey to Durham during the lockdown has “fatally undermined” Boris Johnson’s fight against the corona virus, one of the government’s scientific experts said.
Professor Stephen Reicher, who is a member of the government’s behavioral science advisory group that feeds SAGE, said that the actions of the prime minister’s top official would now mean that members of the public will question the rules assigned to them.
He said that the result of “undermining compliance with the rules” will be that “more people will die.”
The comments came when Mr. Johnson was faced with an increasingly violent crackdown on ministers, Tory MPs and even bishops after attempting to mount an extraordinary defense of Mr. Cummings.
At a dramatic press conference on Downing Street last night, the prime minister claimed that his chief assistant acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity” on a controversial 260-mile trip from London to Durham during the closure.
Johnson insisted that Mr. Cummings had “followed every father’s instinct” by driving to his parents’ farm after his wife developed symptoms of coronavirus.
But he refused to deny that while he was in the northeast, Mr. Cummings had also driven 30 miles to take a walk in the countryside in an apparently second close.
And he did not say whether he had authorized Mr. Cummings for the trip in Durham – or apologized for the behavior of his oldest assistant.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson tried to calm Tory and the public outrage this morning, insisting he “went through every phase that Dominic Cummings followed and his family took the lead.”
But chiefs of police said the argument over Mr. Cummings meant that forcing lock is now “dead in the water.”
Boris Johnson defended his top assistant Dominic Cummings last night, despite mounting calls to be fired
Psychology professor Stephen Reicher (pictured) said the Prime Minister’s defense of Mr. Cummings had threatened Britain’s fight against the corona virus
Prof. Reicher told ITV’s Good Morning Britain program today, “ When you look at the study, it shows the reason people noticed that lockdown wasn’t for themselves, not because they were at personal risk, they did it for the community, they did it because of a feeling of ‘we’re all in it together’.
“If you give the impression, there is one rule for them and one rule for us, you undermine that sense of ‘we are all in it together’ and you undermine the adherence that has led us through this crisis.”
He added, “The real problem here is that through these actions, by undermining confidence in the government, by undermining compliance with the rules that we must all follow, people will die. More people will die. ‘
Mr. Williamson said this morning that it was his “understanding” of Mr. Johnson that Mr. Cummings had not broken the law during their trip to Durham at the closing.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘(The Prime Minister) is absolutely categorically assured that both Dominic Cummings and his family both followed the guidelines and also followed the rules …
‘The guidance is incredibly extensive and the core of that guidance is always the issue of protecting children and ensuring that children are always absolutely protected.
“I understand what the Prime Minister said yesterday … is that Dominic Cummings followed at every stage and his family was in charge, and at no point did Dominic Cummings or his family break the law.”
Mr. Williamson said that Mr. Cummings should not step down “because he made it clear that he didn’t break any rules or break any laws.”
But there is mounting anger among Tory MPs, as 16 have called for Mr Cummings to resign.
The former children’s minister, Tim Loughton, was the last to break the cover when he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: ‘I was hoping we would get some answers from Dominic Cummings or then from the prime minister when he took it up. press conference yesterday afternoon.
“But I’m afraid I didn’t get that and what’s even more troubling is that my constituents didn’t get it, so I was flooded with even more emails from people who don’t have a political ax to grind, who say” look, wait a minute, this sends a very bad message, it seems that it is one rule for them and one for us, why should we stick to government guidelines now? ”
“I find that very worrying. The only show in the city right now is how the government continues with the coronavirus and anything that detracts from it or distracts the prime minister from the work he needs to do is harmful and must be addressed. ‘
Anger at Mr Cummings’ actions has now spread from the top to the bottom of the conservative party.
A minister said to The Times, “Hey [Mr Johnson] sacrificed his own credibility to save Dominic Cummings. He burns his personal brand, his confidence, to save Dom. Stupid must go. ‘
A senior Tory MP told The Guardian, “The prime minister is losing his instinct, he may be losing the plot, and we can lose the country because of this virus.”
A senior source from Tory told The Telegraph: “Boris has risked his credibility and the credibility of the government by standing up for Dom. How can we tell people to stick to the closure now?
“The lockdown is actually over, as it makes it unenforceable.”
Police are concerned that the quarrel, and Mr. Johnson’s decision to stay with Mr. Cummings, will make it nearly impossible to enforce the rules for closure.
Mike Barton, ex-Durham Police Chief, told The Daily Telegraph, “How on earth should police enforce the rules now?
“What happened has completely broken the legislation that was put in place to keep people safe below the waterline. It is dead in the water. ‘
In a sign of how difficult the situation is for number 10, the Prime Minister has also been criticized by high-ranking individuals from the Church of England.
The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, said: “The question now is, do we accept that being lied to, patronized and treated by a prime minister as mugs?
“The moral question is not for Cummings – it is for Prime Minister and Ministers / MPs who find this behavior acceptable.”
Prof. Reicher, an academic at the University of St Andrews, had tweeted last night to harass Mr. Johnson’s performance at the number 10 daily press conference.
“I can say that tonight, within a few minutes, Boris Johnson has thrown away all the advice we have given on how to build confidence and adhere to the measures necessary to control Covid-19,” he said.
“Be open and honest,” we said. Garbage can. Respect the audience, we said. Garbage can. Ensure equality so that everyone is treated the same, we said. Garbage can. Be consistent, we said. Garbage can. Make it clear ‘we are all in it together’. Garbage can. ‘
Shortly after the comment was shared, three other government advisers, two also on committee, echoed Professor Reicher’s anger.
On Saturday, the government said that Mr. Cummings had acted “reasonably and legally” in response to claims that he and his wife had driven 270 miles from London to Durham amid the nationwide closure.
Retired chemistry teacher Robin Lees then claimed that he saw Mr. Cummings and his family walk in the town of Barnard Castle on April 12, according to The Guardian and The Mirror.
The city is 48 kilometers from Durham, where the assistant isolated herself. Mr. Lees reportedly filed a complaint with the police.
Mr. Cummings was photographed on Downing Street on April 14 before a passerby claimed to have seen him again in Durham on April 19.
But despite more than ten Tory bankers asking Mr. Cummings’ head, Mr. Johnson refused to bow to public and political pressure to fire his top associate.
He claimed that Mr. Cummings had “no other choice” than to make the journey when both he and his wife Mary Wakefield were “about to become incapacitated for work by the corona virus.”
The Prime Minister said he had “extensive personal” conversations with Mr. Cummings, claiming that his closest associate had “acted responsibly, legally and with integrity.”
Following Professor Reicher’s Tweet, Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology at University College London, said, “I don’t want science to be knocked down by association with dishonesty.
“I fear that the science, which is essential to survive this pandemic, will decline in the eyes of the public.”
Robert West, who is also part of the advisory group, supported his colleagues when he shared Professor Michie’s post.
Three other government advisers, including Professor Susan Michie (left) and Professor Robert West (right), also echoed Professor Reicher’s anger
Epidemiologist from the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza group on modeling Adam Kurcharski (pictured) said it will be more difficult to achieve contact tracking through public compliance
Professor West had previously tweeted, “Conservative MPs and supporters should be concerned about what’s going on in the government. It’s nothing short of a mess with Trumpian levels of deception.
“People in this country are being treated like idiots and I doubt they’ll stand up for it.”
He also begged the audience to continue to follow the guidelines on the closure, adding, “There is a natural human tendency to say, ‘If someone else can ignore it, I can too,’ but who will suffer? Dominic Cummings will not suffer if we give up, the Prime Minister will not suffer – the people we love will suffer.
Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist with the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Government Modeling Group, added: “I refined our contact tracing analysis this weekend.
“One of the things that always struck me is that in order for these targeted measures to work, we need a high degree of public compliance with quarantine.
“But I’m afraid it will be much more difficult to achieve this now.”