Who does he think he is? The Tsar. Maybe he does. We’ve just witnessed the strange spectacle of a round of Ministers of State going on TV to make a mockery of their own government’s guidance and laws in order to defend an unelected adviser.
Let’s preempt this. The apparent defence for the journey to Durham – against the guidance that people should go home if they have symptoms (his wife did, he may have done) – and against the law that people should not travel outside their own home – is something to do with childcare needs.
The basis appears to be a statement made by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of England on 24 March when the lockdown regulations were introduced that:
A small child clearly is a vulnerable individual, so in this case, although we are encouraging everybody to stay in their own households – that’s the unit with the same risk of exposure – clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance
She also said:
If the individuals do not have access to care support, formal care support or to family, they will be able to work through their local authority hubs
The defence appears to reply on this commentary about “exceptional circumstances”.
Whether this justifies the 260 mile trip to Durham is another matter. In fact it doesn’t. The law in the form of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 does not include an opt-out for “exceptional circumstances”. Thus the “exceptional circumstances” claim can only relate to the guidance about self-isolating.
The laws about not leaving your house are in the The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.  The relevant section is section 6. This states that people may not leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse. A list of reasonable excuses are then listed. The only possible candidate which would provide Mr Cummins with legal cover is:
to provide care or assistance, including relevant personal care within the meaning of paragraph 7(3B) of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006(a), to a vulnerable person, or to provide emergency assistance;
So. Let’s look at this Schedule. And we find that this basically relates to helping a small child or disabled person with personal care. (E.g. taking a child to the toilet). Nothing about taking a child 260 miles to Durham and then another 30 for a toilet break.
In his address to the nation (see below) Cummins said:
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..
The reference to “small children” appears to directly link his claims to the statement by the Deputy Chief Medical Office which we quote above. But, again, this relates simply to the guidance about self-isolating if you have symptoms of Covid-19. It has no bearing at all on the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. Mr Cummins is at the centre of the government which produced both this guidance and these laws. He must know which is which. We can safely assume that this claim about how the small children in exceptional circumstances text exonerates him is point-blank lying.
However; the main point is this. There will have been countless families in the UK who obeyed the guidance and the law and who may have felt their circumstances were “exceptional”. But who would have been afraid to try out their own free-style interpretation of the law for fear of being penalised by the police. And they would have been. That is the point that Mr Cummins and the Prime Minister seem not to grasp. Solidarity with the public means acting as they would. Not acting in a way that you know you can get away with because you are an important man.
The trip to the beauty spot 30 miles away is also illegal. Police forces were penalising people at that time for making just such trips. Maybe this can be understood as a piece of populism; let’s stick with the public against these excessive actions of the police. But if so, it seems rather strange coming from someone at the heart of the process of making the laws.
Mr Cummins is an experienced media operator. (Personally I suspect that he may be engaged in behind-the-scenes stunts and leaks of various kinds to manage the public perception of his role. But this is purely speculation and I can’t prove it). It seems now his working plan is to “speak to the nation”. He’s enough of an operator to get through a handful of weak questions from the docile mainstream media. And then the matter can be put to bed. That’s the plan.
Update – following the statement
Yes. Cummins is an experienced media operator. He gave his address to the nation wearing a white shirt – the colour of innocence and purity – with a backdrop of flowers.
In this address  Cummins presents his actions as reasonable. And, yes, in a way they are – if you and your wife are both ill with Covid-19, driving to your parents’ farm and sitting out your quarantine isn’t unreasonable. Nor is it unreasonable at all that after 14 days of quarantine, on your wife’s birthday, you bent the rules about exercise a little bit and went for a drive to a beauty spot. But – the law is the law and ordinary people don’t get to decide that they can trump the law with “reasonableness”. And this is what they still don’t grasp. It is characteristic of the political elite (see my post on Ed Balls) that when caught breaking the law they offer these emotional explanations designed to evoke sympathy. Are they genuinely unaware that when ordinary people are caught breaking the law such ploys have zero currency?
The sight of a senior government figure openly flouting the laws which every member of the government has spent the last 2 months telling everyone mustn’t be flouted is basically bizarre. (The explanation about the drive to the a certain beauty spot being a test drive to test his eyesight before driving back to London is not credible. On his wife’s birthday. A beauty spot. And since when was driving 60 miles a sensible and “responsible” way to test eyesight which you think might be faulty? And, in any event, it is 100% irrelevant; as per the above, the law does not have a sympathy get-out clause, nor a clause about “test drives”, at least not for the great majority).
When the Prime Minister assures the nation that his subordinate acted “legally” he is simply saying something which anyone can see is not true. The text of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 is available on the Internet and anyone can see it. There is no “reasonable excuse” about test drives. Mr Cummins didn’t even try to claim that his actions were within the law.
Mr Cummin’s wife also lied. She wrote in the Spectator about “emerging from quarantine into the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown”. Italics mine. Emerge has a clear meaning in English. A rabbit emerges from its hole. A bear from hibernation. It means travelling a very short distance. Mrs Cummins was wilfully lying in her Spectator article. And, again, if the trip to Durham was all so legal why lie about it?
Lies, elitism and point-blank cynicism right at the heart of a supposedly “democratic” government. British Values anyone?