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England’s chief nurse has confirmed that she was “dropped” from a No.10 press conference after warning that she would say Dominic Cummings should follow coronavirus lockdown rules like everyone else.
Ruth May was suddenly ditched from a planned appearance at the daily Downing Street briefing after earlier taking part in a preparation session in which she made clear she would answer frankly about Cummings.
Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, was at the time facing heavy criticism for his trips to Durham and Barnard Castle during lockdown.
The senior nurse had been due to appear alongside the health secretary Matt Hancock at the height of the fallout from Cummings’s decision to follow his “instincts” and breach rules forbidding travel.
She told the Commons public accounts committee on Monday that she was asked in the preparatory session for her view of the lockdown rules and the actions of Cummings.
“We talk about lots of these preparations questions. Yes of course I was asked about lockdown and rules to lockdown, yes.”
Asked for her view of Cummings’ conduct, she told the MPs: “I believe that in my opinion the rules were clear, they were there for everyone’s safety and they applied to us all.”
Pushed again to confirm that included the PM’s chief aide, she replied: “They certainly applied to all of us.
“I don’t know why I was dropped from the briefing, I’m afraid you would have to ask other people that.”
In her absence, Hancock presented the daily slides on Covid-19 himself for the first time, alongside Professor John Newton from Public Health England.
The incident came two days after England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam sparked headlines by saying that lockdown rules “apply to all” when asked about Cummings. He has not appeared at the press conferences since 30 May.
Pressed on a report in the Independent that she had been dropped from the June 1 briefing, May said on Monday: “It is indeed true that I was dropped from the briefing. But that happens to many of my colleagues.
“I was also asked to attend another briefing later in June but I got stuck in traffic for that.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told HuffPost UK: ”It’s scandalous that the nation’s senior nurse was silenced at the height of the pandemic because she wasn’t prepared to parrot Downing Street spin about Dominic Cummings’ blatant rule breaking.
“As the CNO [Chief Nursing Officer] indicates, it’s unacceptable that’s there was one rule for Johnson’s elite friends and another for the rest of us.”
When Hancock was asked directly by Ashworth in the Commons if he had personally “acquiesced” to the decision to drop May, the health secretary failed to answer.
No 10 has in the past strongly denied the claims that May had been dropped because of her views on Cummings.
Acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “Boris Johnson is happy to hide behind experts when it suits him, but we now know that as soon as they don’t stick to his script he gags them.
“This is why we need to see the timetable for the independent inquiry he agreed to last week, so we can get the truth out in the open.”