British Prime Minister Boris Johnson snubbed pressure on Sunday to sack top aide Dominic Cummings who was facing allegations that he had breached coronavirus lockdown rules for a second time.
Even MPs from Johnson’s Conservative party asked Cummings to leave.
Cummings was seen with his young son close to his parents’ home in Durham, northeastern England, more than 250 miles (400 kilometres) away from his London home on March 31, the day after he himself reported suffering symptoms.
The Observer and Sunday Mirror reported that he had broken lockdown restrictions again and was seen in Durham a second time on April 19, days after he had returned to work in London following his first trip north, quoting anonymous witnesses.
Cummings strenuously denies the claims and Downing Street said late Saturday said it “would not waste time” responding to “campaigning newspapers”.
A named witness told the papers Cummings was also spotted in the town of Barnard Castle, 30 kilometres from Durham, on April 12.
Cummings has been a highly divisive figure in British politics since masterminding the successful 2016 Brexit campaign alongside Johnson, who brought him in as his top adviser after coming to power last year.
Under lockdown rules brought in on March 23, anyone with symptoms must self-isolate in their own homes
And people aged over 70 — as Cummings’ parents are — are not allowed to receive visitors.
But Cummings travelled across the country with his wife while she was suffering from symptoms of the disease,
Cabinet ministers defended his actions, with foreign minister Dominic Raab tweeting that “two parents with coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child.
“Those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror,” he added.
However, Tory MP Steve Baker, a staunch Brexiteer but critic of Cummings, demanded that he be sacked.
“Enormous political capital is being expended saving someone who has boasted of making decisions beyond his competence and who clearly broke at the very least the guidance which kept mums and dads at home,” he wrote in The Critic.
“It is intolerable that Boris, Boris’s government and Boris’s programme should be harmed in this way.”
His criticism was retweeted by fellow Tory MP William Wragg.
An unnamed minister earlier told the Daily Telegraph: “He’s going to have to go. It’s just arrogance”, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Sunday Cummings would not be resigning.
Labour shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds told the BBC that the claims were “extraordinarily serious” and that Downing Street’s denials created “more questions than answers”.