Dominic Cummings’ Barnard Castle trip ‘deeply unfortunate’ admits justice secretary

Dominic Cummings’s lockdown trip to Barnard Castle was “deeply unfortunate”, and undermined the government’s public health messages, one of Boris Johnson’s senior ministers has admitted.

Justice secretary Robert Buckland was asked on the BBC if he thought the prime minister’s former chief adviser had broken the coronavirus rules.

“Look, it was a deeply unfortunate episode. There is no doubt about that and it didn’t help when it came to creating a consistent message,” Mr Buckland told Question Time host Fiona Bruce.

Although he pointed out that Mr Cummings was “no more” in politics, the minister said the actions of public figures and celebrities “has an impact” on public behaviour.

It marks the first clear condemnation by a cabinet minister of the former No 10 strategist’s actions since the scandal broke in the spring.

Ministers rallied around Mr Cummings in May when Mr Johnson came under intense pressure from opposition MPs and some Conservative backbenchers to sack his strategist.

Only the government’s paymaster general Penny Mordaunt admitted there were some “inconsistencies” in Mr Cummings’ account of his travels around Country Durham. Douglas Ross, who was then Scotland minister, quit in protest. Mr Ross said he could not tell constituents who had been unable to family “they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right”.

Mr Buckland also clashed with TalkRadio host Julia Hartley-Brewer on Question Time after he claimed the government “trusted” the public to follow the latest Covid rules and did not want to come across as “authoritarian”.

Mr Buckland: “I think it’s important in terms of the messaging that we give out that we don’t sound in effect authoritarian. In other words we don’t become too shrill, too didactic, because we couldn’t achieve progress without cooperation and solidarity with the people of this country.”

He added: “These messages are well understood by the majority of the British people, I trust them to do the right thing.”

Ms Hartley-Brewer replied: “I’m sorry – that’s a lie, you do not trust the British people to do the right thing. Otherwise you wouldn’t decide who they can or cannot go to the pub with, who they can or cannot have in their home.”