Dominic Cummings joked in a private message about taking his family to the countryside in March 2020, about a fortnight before he infamously did just that in apparent breach of lockdown laws.
In a near-augury of his infamous trip to Durham and then Barnard Castle, Cummings, then the chief aide to Boris Johnson, made the comment to Michael Gove as the two complained about a lack of action in tackling the Covid pandemic.
During Gove’s testimony at the Covid inquiry on Tuesday, he shared messages that were sent on 4 March. At the time, Gove was the lead Cabinet Office minister and he messaged Cummings stating that the government was making mistakes and missing important chances. He also expressed that the situation was even worse than Cummings may have realized and urgent action needed to be taken in order to avoid long-term regrets.
Gove informed the inquiry that the topic at hand was not solely focused on Covid, but rather a range of matters. However, following a brief break, during which he failed to answer five voice calls from Cummings, the pair continued their conversation on the subject of what Cummings referred to as “corona hell.”
On March 11th, Cummings sent a message to Gove expressing frustration with the Cabinet Office, calling it a “ridiculous” organization. He also mentioned that they had claimed to have a plan, but he believed that was not true.
After Gove responded with “Indeed”, Cummings made a quip about taking his family to the countryside and holding a press conference to declare that they were on their own. He also mentioned that people should be punished, to which Gove asked who Cummings had in mind to be the first to face consequences.
Cummings and his family went to a property owned by his parents in Durham 16 days after their initial trip, during which his wife had developed symptoms of Covid, along with their young son.
Multiple residents of the area reported seeing the family, including on their well-known visit to Barnard Castle, a nearby scenic location, on April 12. Robin Lees, a former chemistry teacher, observed Cummings and took note of the vehicle’s license plate number.
The overwhelming proof of this trip prompted Downing Street, who had vehemently denied any wrongdoing, to hold a press conference in May 2020. During the conference, Cummings stated that he drove to Durham to secure childcare assistance when he and his spouse were ill, and that he only drove to Barnard Castle to assess his eyesight.
A year after the fact, Cummings testified to Members of Parliament that he relocated his family from London for safety concerns, based on advice from the police. This information was not able to be shared at the time.