England’s chief nursing officer Ruth May confirmed she was “dropped” from a daily Downing Street press conference after expressing concerns that the prime minister’s most senior aide had undermined the coronavirus lockdown.
Dominic Cummings came under fire for driving 260 miles north from London to County Durham during the height of the pandemic and then taking a one-hour road trip to check his own eyesight.
In a preparatory briefing session ahead of a televised broadcast on June 1, Ms May was asked to respond to reports Mr Cummings had broken the government’s restrictions.
After indicating she had been unhappy with Mr Cummings’ actions, she told MPs on Monday that she was given no explanation as to why she was “stepped down” from the press conference.
Speaking to the Commons public accounts committee, Ms May said: “It is indeed true I was dropped from the briefing but that happened to many of my colleagues as well.”
Questioned on whether she had been asked to comment on Mr Cummings’ actions in the trial run of the briefing, she said: “We talk about lots of these preparations questions and of course I was asked about lockdown and rules to lockdown.”
Pushed on whether she believed Mr Cummings had breached the rules, she said: “In my opinion the rules were clear. They were there for everyone’s safety and they applied to us all.”
She added: “I don’t know why I was dropped from the briefing, you would have to ask other people.”
Downing Street has denied Ms May was dropped from the briefing after failing to support the prime minister’s chief adviser.
Mr Johnson repeatedly defended Mr Cummings’s trip from London to County Durham and subsequent 52-mile day trip to Barnard Castle during the height of lockdown.
The prime minister also prevented chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance from answering any questions about Mr Cummings when they appeared alongside him at one of the daily briefings in May, saying it would be wrong for them to be dragged into a political row.
Prof Whitty said he had no desire to get drawn into politics while Sir Patrick said he was a “neutral” civil servant. Just days later, Jonathan Van Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, did not hesitate when invited to comment on the scandal.
“In my opinion the rules are clear and they have always been clear” he said. “In my opinion, they are for the benefit of all and in my opinion they apply to all.”
Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, said it was “scandalous
that the nation’s most 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 chief nursing officer indicates, it’s unacceptable that
there was one rule for Johnson’s elite friends and another for the
rest of us.”
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