At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister stopped Sir Patrick and Prof Whitty from commenting on Mr Cummings to “protect them” from a “political argument”.
It came after Durham Constabulary issued a statement on Mr Cummings’ travel to the county days after lockdown had been imposed, saying it did not consider that by locating himself at his father’s premises he committed an offence.
However, the force said it would have taken action if police officers had stopped Mr Cummings on a further 50-mile round trip to Barnard Castle, which he said he had made to test if he was well enough for the drive back to London.
Mr Johnson said he regarded the issue as “closed” after police said they did not intend to take “retrospective action”, though the force found that the aide may have committed “a minor breach” of lockdown rules in driving to the town.
“And I intend to draw a line under the matter, as I said yesterday to the Parliamentary liaison committee,” the Prime Minister said.
Blocking a question to his scientific advisers from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, the Prime Minister said: “I know that you’ve asked Chris and Patrick but I’m going to interpose myself if I may and protect them from what I think would be an unfair and unnecessary attempt to ask any political questions.”
Both advisers later said they did not wish to get involved in politics, with Prof Whitty replying: “The desire to not get pulled into politics is far stronger on the part of Sir Patrick and me than it is in the Prime Minister.”
Sir Patrick added: “I’m a civil servant, I’m politically neutral, I don’t want to get involved in politics at all.”
Opposition MPs said the fact police believe Mr Cummings may have breached the rules showed that members of the public were right to be outraged at his behaviour, which they claim has undermined public health messages.
Westminster opposition leaders held a conference call with the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon, during which the SNP’s Ian Blackford told Mr Johnson that his adviser should be sacked.
“I told the Prime Minister that he needs to put public health first and remove Dominic Cummings from post,” Mr Blackford said.
“There cannot be one rule for the Tory government and another for everyone else.
“We now have confirmation from Durham Police that Mr Cummings broke the regulations – and we already know that he broke UK government guidance.”
The SNP MP added: “There is serious concern that this scandal is eroding public trust in the health guidance and distracting from efforts to tackle coronavirus – including the success of test, trace and isolate schemes, which rely on public adherence to the rules.”
Labour shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The police have confirmed what we all knew, that Dominic Cummings broke the rules he helped to write. The country cannot afford for this saga to carry on. Only Boris Johnson can draw a line under it.
“Keir Starmer has said that if he was Prime Minister, he would have sacked Dominic Cummings.
“Boris Johnson should follow that advice.
“If he does not act then he will send a clear message that there is one rule for his closest adviser and another for the British people.”
In its statement, the force said: “Durham Constabulary have examined the circumstances surrounding the journey to Barnard Castle – including ANPR[automatic number plate recognition], witness evidence and a review of Mr Cummings’ press conference on 25 May 2020 – and have concluded that there might have been a minor breach of the regulations that would have warranted police intervention.
“Durham Constabulary view this as minor because there was no apparent breach of social distancing.”
Durham’s former chief constable Mike Barton said he believed the force statement used the word “might” in relation to Mr Cummings breaking the regulations as they could not be seen to be acting as judge and jury.