Boris Johnson will be grilled over Dominic Cumming’s 260-mile lockdown trip to Durham on Wednesday, as a group of senior MPs question the prime minister on all aspects of his response to the coronavirus crisis.
The prime minister will be quizzed by MPs on the Commons’ Liaison Committee – the only committee with the power to question the prime minister – around 4pm, and the long-delayed meeting is expected to last around 90 minutes.
It is understood parliamentarians will have 20 minutes at the beginning of the session to probe the situation surrounding Mr Cummings, with other aspects of the government’s handling of the lockdown set be discussed in three other 20-minute sections.
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Mr Hunt – Mr Johnson’s chief rival for the Tory leadership last year – has already made clear his views on Mr Cummings’ trip, arguing the aide “clearly” breached lockdown rules in three ways: by coming back into work while ill, driving to Durham, and visiting Barnard Castle.
The Commons’ Liaison Committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin said the format for the session had been agreed by the 37 committee members, including Conservative, Labour and SNP MPs.
Asked about the situation regarding Mr Cummings, the MP insisted: “I have got no intention of preventing any subject any member of the committee wants to raise.”
The committee includes Tory MP William Wragg – who has said it was “humiliating and degrading” to see ministers put out agreed lines in defence of Mr Cummings.
Fellow Conservative Caroline Nokes, who has informed her party whips there could not be one rule for most people and “wriggle room” for others when it comes to lockdown, is also on the committee.
The prime minister was accused of avoiding scrutiny when he cancelled his previous scheduled appearance before the committee in October, claiming he had to concentrate on “delivering Brexit”.
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The Liaison Committee generally meets three times a year. It has not met since Mr Johnson entered No 10 last July.
Wednesday’s interrogation comes amid a growing revolt in Mr Johnson’s party, with at least 40 Tory MPs having now called for Mr Cummings to go.
Senior ministers have expressed public support for the defiant adviser, but there are reports a number of Cabinet members have privately called for him to be ousted from No 10.
Tory grandee Sir Roger Gale said the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee should make it clear to the PM his adviser should go.
“The time I think has come for Mr Cummings to resign or for the PM to dispense of his services,” said the North Thanet MP. “There are people on the 1922 executive who are courageous, and that’s their job. They are elected to tell the PM what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear.”