On BBC Breakfast this morning, recounted by The Guardian here, Robert Jenrick (Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government) said the following:

[Dominic Cummings] has given his explanation to the prime minister, who listened and concluded that he’d acted reasonably and legally.

The prime minister then asked him to give that statement on Monday to the public and to answer questions from journalists.

The essence of the defence of Dominic Cummings is this: we accept his story. Jenrick’s words are very similar to those used by Gove and Sunak and even Johnson himself.

But the story is ridiculous! I hear you screaming when reading the words above.

Yes, indeed. And even the likes of Jenrick know it. But Cummings’s story is plausible enough to give a bunch of Tory MPs and Ministers the cover they need to defend it. They might tie themselves in knots doing so, and do toe curlingly embarrassing interviews to defend themselves. And, deep down, even they know they are defending the indefensible here, but they know that they have to. And they have been doing for some days now, and they are not about to stop.

No amount of pressure on the points we know already is going to change their minds. We know driving to Barnard Castle to check your eyes is a fabrication. They know we know it is a fabrication. But to admit now that it is a fabrication is a loss of face. But you spent 3 days defending that! Why the change now? Ha, you lackey! Such a change of face is not going to happen.

That then is why the details still matter.

If it turns out that the story Cummings told on Monday is not even the complete fabrication then it gives the likes of Jenrick a way out. It allows MPs, Ministers and even Johnson to switch their position without looking like fools. We thought we had the whole story, they can say. But it turns out we did not. Cummings must go now.

That is why I have been giving considerable thought over the past 24 hours to what additional detail there might be to be found, and whether this contradicts what Cummings said.

I think – based on the way his words were phrased at the Press Conference – that there are a few things that could be enough to push this over the edge.

  1. Cummings was clear that he did not stop en route to Durham on 27 March – is that true? There are two possible weaknesses to this one – either that he had to stop to refuel his car, or that he, his wife or his child needed a toilet break. If he had more than 2/3 of a tank of fuel when he started, not needing to refuel could hold. More in this thread. Police have data on his movements from the Jaguar Land Rover telematics system – we know from The Guardian here, and the system is explained here. CCTV footage and/or ANPR could additionally be used to prove this, and police would have this data. Note that the petrol point does not apply to his return journey – he was not categoric, but left enough room for manoeuvre in his statement to allow this on the return trip.
  2. Cummings said he did not leave his parents’ property other than to the hospital where his son was hospitalised and the trip to Barnard Castle while in Durham between 27 March and 13 April – is that true? Proving it would be done the same way as for point 1. Also note that until roughly 10 April it was a period when he should have been observing self isolation.
  3. Cummings said that there were no further trips to Durham, and indeed no trip outside London other than for work to Chequers, after 14th April – is that true? His words about that are in this thread. The Mirror carried a story thinking he had been spotted in Durham on 19th April, and there are possible eye witness reports of a sighting on 11 May. We of course do not know which car (or indeed other transport means) Cummings may have used for these, but again CCTV, ANPR or mobile phone data, plus interviews with eye witnesses, could be used to prove either of these (or not).

If any of those three were to be true, that might just be enough to give Tory MPs and Ministers adequate face saving to switch their positions and call for Cummings to be removed.

We already know that Cummings altering his blog entry on 14 April to make it look like he predicted the problems of Coronavirus before it happened (that emerged after the Press Conference) will not be enough – because that is simply too fuzzy, and how the Wayback Machine works is too much for most people to grasp. It gives too much wriggle room, in a way that he said he did not stop but he did or he said he made 1 trip to Durham but he made 2 do not.

2 Comments

  1. Jams O'Donnell

    You overlook what seems to me to be the over-riding fact about this whole affair – neither Cummings, Johnston, any of his ministers or anyone else in the (large) hand-picked and subservient section of the Tory Party which supports Johnston wants Cummings to go, no mater how bad it looks. Without Cummings, Johnston would flounder, without Johnstone the rest would flounder, as they are all without exception as far as I can see, nonentities. Why would they try to get rid of him?

  2. dieseltaylor

    Useful additions to the circumstances of the scandal. I am curious that his wife apparently does not drive though she did in the US according to her known writings.

    I am not a Spectator subscriber so I can only say that I understand her descriptions of the virus and surviving lockdown are said not to mention that they were not at their London home but away. I am not clear why they would not want to mention that if it was entirely legitimate.

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