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Boris Johnson has said he regrets the “confusion and anger” caused by the Dominic Cummings row as he once again leapt to defend his embattled adviser.
Johnson said he continued to back Cummings, after the senior aide had attempted to face down anger over his trip to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown with a special press conference in Downing Street on Monday.
Johnson said: “I cannot give unconditional backing to anybody, but I do not believe anybody in Number 10 has done anything to undermine our messaging.”
The former Vote Leave boss refused to apologise, claimed he “acted reasonably” and said he had no regrets in travelling 260 miles out of London to his parents’ home as it was to ensure childcare for his son.
He also claimed a trip to the town of Barnard Castle - where he was spotted by a witness - was to have an eye test as he was worried his vision had been affected by coronavirus.
Cummings also admitted that he did not inform the PM of his plans.
Johnson, who led the Downing Street daily briefing on coronavirus later on Monday, said: “Do I regret what has happened? Yes, of course I do regret the confusion and the anger and the pain that people feel,” he said.
Refusing follow-up questions to journalists, Johnson insisted Cummings had done nothing wrong.
The PM said: “To the best of my knowledge, Mr Cummings has just subjected himself to your interrogation for quite a long time now about these very detailed matters and has produced quite a substantial chunk of autobiography about what happened in the period from March 27 to April 14.
“I really feel that it would be wrong of me to try to comment further. I think people will have to make their minds up. I think he spoke at great length. To me, he came across as somebody who cared very much about his family and who was doing the best for his family.”
Johnson also claimed his own eyesight had been affected by coronavirus.
“I’m finding that I have to wear spectacles for the first time in years – I think because of the effects of this thing – so I’m inclined to think there’s some … I think that’s very, very plausible that eyesight can be a problem associated with coronavirus.”
Reports in 2014, quote the PM as saying “I’m now so short-sighted, I’m blind”, suggesting the PM has had trouble with his eyesight previously.
Asked why he was not told about Cummings’ trip north, Johnson said: “I didn’t know about any of the arrangements in advance.”
Cummings’ public statement came after a string of Tory MPs called for Johnson to sack him, with many reporting angry constituents getting in touch. While some tweeted support after the conference, others have yet to comment.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Cummings’ behaviour had damaged trust in the government and its approach to coronavirus.
Several other Labour MPs tweeted an identical message within the space of a few minutes, reading: “It’s one rule for Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, another for everybody else.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford called Cummings’ public statement a “car crash press conference”, adding: “It is now beyond doubt that Dominic Cummings broke multiple lockdown rules, possibly on multiple occasions.”