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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Housing ministers steer clear of Cummings row - until last evening

Housing Minister Chris Pincher and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick stayed well clear of the Dominic Cummings row over the weekend - at least until the controversy neared the end of its third day.

The Cummings row is well documented and concerns his trip from London to Durham during the strictest period of the lockdown and, shortly before his return to the capital, a 30 mile trip to a local beauty spot in the north of England, apparently to test his eyesight and ability to drive the full return journey. 

The Prime Minister has given Cummings his support, explaining the trips were “responsible and legal” to assist in the wellbeing of Cummings’ four year old child.

On Saturday a large number of Cabinet ministers tried to prevent the issue blowing up by posting orchestrated supportive tweets with near-identical messages; these came from high profile ministers Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and many others - but not Housing Secretary Jenrick. 

He had reasons to be quiet on the issue: the Cummings controversy, which dominated two of the daily No 10 press briefings on the virus crisis, drowned out an announcement Jenrick made about his rough sleeping initiative.

The proposals set out plans to provide thousands of  long-term, safe  homes  for vulnerable rough sleepers taken off the streets during the pandemic.

This involves £160m spending by the government this year plus accelerating  plans for  £381m to be spent on rough  sleeping  services, as announced in February’s Budget. 

Another reason for Jenrick’s silence on the Cummings issue before it was apparently resolved was that he himself was some weeks ago accused of breaking the lockdown by travelling 40 miles to see his parents at their Shropshire home, and for travelling 150 miles from his London property, where he stayed at the start of the lockdown, to his Herefordshire home from where he travelled to his parents.

Jenrick said that he had gone to deliver food and medicine to his isolating parents, and insisted that returning to his family home was not against the rules, as his work in London at the start of the pandemic was essential.

Eventually last evening - after Cummings made his explanation to journalists and a TV audience - Jenrick tweeted that the adviser “put no one else at risk” and “did what he believed was reasonable and within the rules.”

Chris Pincher - who also steered clear of any comment until last evening - was more guarded, tweeting at about the same time: “It was right for Dom Cummings to clearly and fully explain the detail behind decisions.he made for his family in these exceptional circumstances.”

Over the three day weekend, as the Cummings controversy raged, Hunters chairman and Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake issued three tweets on the issue.

On Saturday he endorsed a comment by Cabinet minister Michael Gove, giving support to Cummings.  

Then on Sunday Hollinrake tweeted: “If a constituent had called me and said that they and their partner had both got Covid and could take their four year old to family, I would have said yes. If they said they could revisit their family afterwards, I would have said no. If latter has happened then that’s unacceptable.”

Yesterday, after Dominic Cummings gave his lengthy account to journalists, Hollinrake tweeted: “Detailed and fair explanation of events, in my view, time to move on.”

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