24/05/2020 21:28 BST

Keir Starmer Accuses Boris Johnson Of Treating Public 'With Contempt' Over Cummings Row

Labour leader says he would have sacked aide over lockdown breaches as Tory MPs round on PM.

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Boris Johnson treated British people “with contempt” by refusing to act when his top aide Dominic Cummings flouted Covid lockdown rules, Keir Starmer has said.  

The Labour leader led a chorus of criticism of the prime minister on Sunday - which included a string of Johnson’s own Tory backbenchers - after he publicly declared his support for Cummings at the Downing Street briefing. 

Cummings, a key and controversial figure in Westminster, is said to have twice broken the “stay at home” guidance issued by the PM in March, by travelling 260 miles to stray with family in Durham and later visiting a beauty spot in the area. 

Johnson said he had “extensive face to face” discussions with the former Vote Leave boss on Sunday and was convinced he acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”. 

He went on to insist that the trip allowed Cummings to “find the right kind of childcare” for his four-year-old son, when he and his wife fell ill with the virus. 

But the news has left Brits who stuck faithfully to the government restrictions angry, with millions having been unable to see much-loved relatives for weeks. 

Speaking outside his home in north London, Starmer said: “This was a huge test of the prime minister and he’s just failed that test, he hasn’t sacked Dominic Cummings, he hasn’t called for an investigation and he’s treating the British public with contempt.

Boris Johnson's senior aide Dominic Cummings leaves his home, in London, 

“Millions of people across the country have made the most agonising choices not to visit relatives, some of whom were ill, dying, not to go to funerals.

“They deserve better answers than they got from the prime minister today.”

Asked if Cummings had an argument for travelling north by needing childcare from his parents, Starmer said: “That’s not a reasonable interpretation of the rules and the prime minister knows it.

“And millions of people have not done the same, that’s why this is such an important issue, millions haven’t done that and he has done it.

“One rule for the prime minister’s advisers, another rule for everybody else.”

He added: “If I were prime minister I would have sacked Cummings, and there must now be an investigation into what has happened.”

It came as footage emerged on social media of Cummings being heckled by members of the public. 

One woman could be heard shouting: “My mum’s terrified, my dad’s had three shoulder operations… she won’t even entertain me in her garden with a tent.”

The woman, who was filming as she spoke, could then be heard telling him: “I’m a single parent. I’ve had no childcare since the beginning of this whole mess, not that I can afford to pay any child care.

Shouts of “hypocrite”, “resign” and “shame” could also be heard as Cummings entered his home. 

Tory MPs, meanwhile, have broken ranks to demand the PM sack his aide.

David Warburton, the Tory MP for Somerton and Frome, said he was “unconvinced” by Boris Johnson’s defence of Dominic Cummings.

“As much as I despise any baying pitchfork-led trials by social media, I’m unconvinced by the PM’s defence of #Cummings,” he tweeted.

“We’ve all been tasked with tempering our parental, and other, instincts by strictly adhering to Govt guidance.”

Former minister, and Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP, Paul Maynard was withering about the PM’s response.  

He said: “I can only share the collective dismay and I understand the widespread anger.

Screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).

“So many people in this constituency have gone out of their way to stick to both the letter and the spirit of the guidelines and laws, despite it coming at great personal emotional cost.

“It is a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ – and it is not as if he was unfamiliar with guidance he himself helped draw up.

“It seems to me to be utterly indefensible and his position wholly untenable.”

At the press conference, Johnson admitted the matter was “serious” and that he “can totally get why people might feel so confused and so offended”, but added: “But really having looked at what happened, having looked at his intentions and what he was trying to do for the good of his family, I really think most people will understand what he was doing and, above all, what he did – if you look at the measures that he took – they were designed to stop the spread of the virus.

“I think that he, at all times, behaved responsibly and legally.”