Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick visited his parents during Covid-19 lockdown | World news

The cabinet minister Robert Jenrick is facing questions after travelling to visit his parents at the weekend, despite repeatedly urging the public to stay at home during the lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The Guardian has established that the housing, communities and local government secretary – who has made media appearances urging people to save lives by remaining in their properties even if tempted to see loved ones – went to see his parents at their Shropshire home, 40 miles by road from his own.

A witness has told the Guardian they saw Jenrick, 38, visiting the property at the weekend.

A source close to the cabinet minister admitted that he had made the journey during lockdown conditions, but defended the trip by saying he dropped off food and medication, and did not enter the house. Jenrick later confirmed this in a tweet in which he said his parents were both self-isolating, because of age and his father’s medical condition, and he had respected social distancing rules.

Government instructions say: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.” The only exception is if they need help, such as having shopping or medication dropped off.

The Guardian understands that the local community has been supporting Jenrick’s parents by delivering groceries in recent weeks. This was not denied, though the source said Jenrick had collected and delivered medication for his parents, too.

On Thursday night it emerged that the minister had also travelled between London and his home in Herefordshire, which is not in his constituency of Newark in Nottinghamshire.

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.”

Jenrick was seen by a witness in his parents’ front garden. His father and mother, who are 79 and 69, live in a detached house in a village in Shropshire. It is more than an hour’s drive from the MP’s home in Herefordshire, from where he has been doing TV interviews.

While Jenrick’s decision appears to contrast with his instructions to the public, it will be familiar to many facing the dilemma of whether to help elderly parents or stay away.

Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, was forced to quit at the weekend after facing intense criticism for breaking her own rules by twice visiting her second home during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Friday before Jenrick went to see his parents, he tweeted: “If you are considering going out this weekend, please don’t, unless it’s for work (where you cannot work from home), health reasons, food shopping or exercise. We need to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.”

In a strongly worded comment piece for the Mail on Sunday on 22 March, Jenrick reinforced his message urging the country to stay at home on Mother’s Day. He wrote: “We are facing a huge challenge on a scale not seen since the second world war. It’s not just a national emergency, it’s a global emergency – one which puts some of us at more risk than others. The choices that we must make over the coming days and weeks can save many lives.

“That means families making big sacrifices – especially today, on Mother’s Day. It’s so important that we speak to our loved ones as much as we can – whether that’s FaceTime or a phone call. But for now, we must practise social distancing in order to tackle the spread of the virus. We need to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. But while we create physical distance between ourselves, we must at the same time have closer social support for our neighbours.”

In the article, the minister highlighted that those who were self-isolating and did not have support from family, friends or neighbours would receive support from volunteers.

On Thursday, Dominic Raab signalled the government’s continued advocacy of the stay-at-home policy, telling the public: “We’re starting to see the impact of the sacrifices we’ve all made.” He added: “We are not done yet. We must keep going.”

Responding to the Guardian’s story, Jenrick tweeted: “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.”

On the subject of his travel between Herefordshire and London, Jenrick told the Daily Mail: “My house in Herefordshire is the place I, my wife and my young children consider to be our family home and my family were there before any restrictions on travel were announced.

“I have been working in London on ministerial duties, putting in place the system to shield the group most vulnerable to coronavirus and organising the response at a local level. 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. By staying at home, we protect the NHS and help save lives.

“I will be staying at my family home until government advice changes or if I am needed in person in Westminster before the parliamentary session resumes after the Easter recess.”

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