Downing Street has backed a minister who travelled 150 miles from London to a property he owns in rural Herefordshire during the coronavirus lockdown.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s 17th-century Grade I listed country manor house is not listed as his residential home.
Days after chairing a government news conference in Westminster to reinforce the “stay at home” message, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick appeared on Sky News via video link from the seventeenth century manor house he owns in the hamlet of Eye.
This is despite the Nottinghamshire MP’s website stating his family live 120 miles away in his constituency of Newark as well as in London.
Government guidance on essential travel says the public should not visit second homes and must “remain in their primary residence”.
The spokesman said Mr Jenrick has said himself that his wife and children consider their Herefordshire home to be their family home.
Mr Jenrick, who has a £2,000-a-month taxpayer funded third home in his Newark constituency, said last night he considers the Herefordshire property to be the family home. His claimed that the £1.1million Grade I listed country mansion he drove 150 miles to during the coronavirus lockdown is his family home contradicts his official website that says different.
It also fails to mention his 17th-century Grade I listed country house, and instead says the family ‘live in Southwell near Newark, and in London’. The couple are understood to spend most of the week in the capital because of Mr Jenrick’s ministerial work and his wife’s job as a partner for a major US law firm in the City.
Asked if it was Number 10’s view that Mr Jenrick had committed no wrongdoing, the spokesman replied: “Correct. He’s set out the reasons and we’re confident he complied [with social distancing].”
Mr Jenrick told Sky News he considers the Herefordshire property to be his family home and that his wife and children “were there before any restrictions on travel were announced”.
He went on to say “once I was able to work from home it was right that I went home to do so and be with my wife and also help care for my three young children”.
It is understood that the housing secretary and his wife usually spend their working week in London but live in Herefordshire whenever possible.
Sky News has asked Mr Jenrick for clarification over where his children go to school and where he pays his council tax.
Stay at home save lives
It’s a case of do as I say not as I do.
Under the lockdown rules he has been promoted any travel to second homes is banned – and Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, was forced to resign at the weekend after visiting her second home twice. In Australia, New South Wales Arts Minister Don Harwin resigned after leaving his Sydney apartment to stay at his Central Coast holiday home and was caught by police.
Mr Jenrick has also been criticised after he drove to visit his parents in Shropshire with supplies last weekend, despite urging others to stay at home for ‘all bar the most essential activities’.
In an article for the Mail on Sunday just over two weeks ago, Jenrick argued that rather than relatives travelling, local communities should help out. “While we create physical distance between ourselves, we must at the same time have closer social support for our neighbour,” he wrote.
The visit came after Jenrick appealed for people not to visit their family on Mother’s Day. “The advice today is very clear, we need to stay at home for all bar the most essential activities, and by doing that we’ll protect the NHS and help to save lives,” he told Sky News on 22 March. “I know it’s Mother’s Day and I know it’s tough and it goes against everything that we want to do as a family but don’t go and see your mum. Give her a phone call, Skype her, FaceTime her, tell her that you love her and that we’re going to get through this together.”
The minister tweeted last night: ‘For clarity – my parents asked me to deliver some essentials – including medicines. They are both self-isolating due to age and my father’s medical condition and I respected social distancing rules’.
But the couple’s neighbours told the Guardian that they had already been dropping off supplies at Mr Jenrick’s parents’ house during the lockdown. This was not denied, though a source close to Mr Jenrick said he had been asked to collect and deliver medication to them too.
Commenting on Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick visiting his elderly parents, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The Secretary of State has set out in two different statements the reasons for the journeys which he made. We’re confident that he complied with the social distancing rules.’
The spokesman said Mr Jenrick has said himself that his wife and children consider their home in Herefordshire to be their family home.
Asked about Cabinet ministers commuting to and from London, the spokesman said: ‘Like everybody else, ministers have been told to work from home wherever possible, and not make unnecessary journeys.
‘As part of the coronavirus response there will be occasions when ministers have no option but to work from Whitehall. In the event this is required, and the rest of their household is living elsewhere, it’s not an unnecessary journey for them to travel to rejoin their family.’