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The row continued to rumble on today, with Mr Johnson facing a grilling by MPs at the Commons Liaison Committee today over his handling of the situation, triggered by Mr Cummings decision to drive 260 miles to Durham after he and his wife developed COVID-19 symptoms. Mr Cummings subsequently sought to explain his actions in a statement delivered at Number 10 on Sunday, with Mr Johnson insisting his adviser had acted “reasonably” and had not break the rules. However, a YouGov poll released after Mr Cummings spoke indicated 71 percent of Britons – including a majority of Tory voters – disagreed.
Sir John – professor of politics at Strathclyde University – told Express.co.uk: “Could he end up having to go? It probably is still in the balance.
“The truth is under most Prime Ministers and with most advisers, he would probably long since have been toast
“The interesting thing is that Johnson is still standing by him, with a little bit of wriggle room in the sense that he said it is all contingent.
“The thing is what is in contingent on? Is it contingent on persuading the majority of Tory MPs that Cummings should be accepted? Well if that’s the criteria I am not quite sure.
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If it rests on has Dominic Cummings together with the various efforts of ministers persuaded the public that actually it was a tough call but he did the right thing, then by that criteria the problem the Government faces is that it has simply failed
Sir John Curtice
“If it rests on has Dominic Cummings together with the various efforts of ministers persuaded the public that actually it was a tough call but he did the right thing, then by that criteria the problem the Government faces is that it has simply failed.
“The polling evidence is clear that the public do think that Dominic Cummings broke the rules and they think he should resign.”
The difficulty for both Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings was not that sizeable majorities of Remain and Labour voters wanted him to quit, Sir John said.
He explained: “The problem for the Government is that at least a half and maybe a majority of Tory voters think he should go.
“And that’s what is similarly reflected in the inboxes of Tory MPs, which is why Tory MPs are starting to still continuing to worry about this, because they are getting people who are not, as it were, the usual suspects writing in saying this is not fair, this is not right.”
Sir John said Mr Johnson’s staunch defence of Mr Cummings reflected the Prime Minister’s belief that the 48-year-old was “absolutely crucial” to his political strategy.
However, he added: “You have to ask yourself what might be the cost?
“At the end of the day is what Prime Ministers have to realise is their authority rests on their MPs’ belief that they can win them the next election.
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“It’s four-and-a-half years away so it is not as pressing as it could be. However, one poll at least has suggested what was already a bit of a slip in the Government’s position has already shifted quite noticeably in the last fortnight in the immediate wake of this. That is what will worry Tory MPs.”
Sir John said: “We are speaking at a time that it is important that the Government believes and trusts what the Government says.”
With a police investigation apparently underway, likely to centre on Mr Cummings’ decision to drive 30 miles to Barnard Castle while staying in the north east to test his eyesight, it was also critical that all aspects of his story checked out, Sir John said.
He added: “He could not afford to utter a single dubious statement.”
Boris Johnson had staked a huge amount on Cummings, Sir John acknowledged.
He said: “He wants him so much because he is a very clever man whose skills are widely admired and he somebody with strong views on how Whitehall should be organised.
“They share similar views about Leave and Brexit and there clearly is an ideological affinity there.”
Consequently, the loss of Mr Cummings would represent a body blow to Mr Johnson personally.
He warned: “It is the very constituency of people who brought Boris Johnson’s majority – at least half of them which is not willing to take Boris Johnson’s word on the subject.
“Losing him is a hit but it is a hit which would enable the Government to move on.
“Keeping him might work out but there is a risk that it does terrible damage.
“And that’s the calculation that Boris Johnson is having to make.”
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