Durham Police have issued a statement stating that Boris Johnson’s Chief Advisor committed a ‘minor’ breach of the Health Protection Regulations Act (otherwise known as the Coronavirus Act) 2020 in his trip to Barnard Castle, but declined to fine him. The press release said that this offence was the only one that he had committed.
NEW: Durham Police statement says Dominic Cummings *did* break lockdown rules during his stay in Durham. pic.twitter.com/OSMXLrjDj4
— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) May 28, 2020
This announcement has come after the eruption of a scandal over the past week over the behaviour of the government adviser during the lockdown. The fallout led to the resignation of a minister from the Scotland office and prompted a press conference by Cummings himself, an unprecedented step by a special adviser. There has been all-but unanimous criticism of his behaviour in the press. YouGov polling found that on the 23rd of May, 52% of people thought that he should resign, while 70% of people on the 26th of May thought that his behaviour would complicate the government’s messaging on the coronavirus response in future.
Additionally, some 44 Conservative MPs, including Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes, have called for Cummings’ resignation, while a further 37 have criticised him without calling for his resignation.
But, despite the furore, Boris Johnson and his Cabinet have thrown their weight behind Cummings. Messages of support have been tweeted out by his cabinet, and the Prime Minister has refused to sack him, urging on Wednesday for the country to ‘move on’.
Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t. https://t.co/QVkFmKgOsW
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) May 23, 2020
Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition, stated that the government’s behaviour had made it look ‘untrustworthy and unprincipled‘, adding that ‘our nation’s health must come first‘. He has so far held off from demanding Cummings’ resignation, however.
A secondary, legal argument has broken out over the behaviour of the Attorney General Suella Braverman during this scandal.
— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) May 23, 2020
Like every other Cabinet minister, Suella Braverman MP tweeted out her support for the government’s position on the Cummings scandal. The Telegraph reported earlier this week that Braverman told the government that no laws had been broken. But unlike other ministers, Braverman is the Attorney-General.
The Attorney-General, in the UK constitution, has a dual responsibility. First, to oversee and be accountable for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Serious Fraud Office, plus the prosecution services of the armed forces and HMRC, while bearing joint responsibility with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice for criminal justice as a whole. But they also give legal advice to the government. In this latter role, the attorney-general is supposed to act separately to the political demands of government.
Braverman’s endorsement of what appears to have been illicit behaviour has, as a result, sparked criticism of her conduct over the issue. The Good Law Project, a legal non-profit founded by Jolyon Maugham QC, has threatened to file suit if they do not receive an account of the legal advice given to the government. Previously, the Good Law Project has litigated on a number of high-profile issues. They filed against the prorogation of parliament, and the purported breaches of electoral law by Vote Leave, who were fined by the Electoral Commission but did not face charges from the police.