London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has started taking charge of the government even as he convalesces at Chequers in south-east England, following his hospitalisation after testing positive for coronavirus. Also Read - UK PM Boris Johnson Discharged From Hospital Following Coronavirus Treatment
The Sunday Telegraph’ reports that Johnson began giving directions to his Cabinet, including to his deputy UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, from his prime ministerial countryside retreat as he prepares to resume full charge in the coming days. Also Read - Coronavirus: In First Public Statement, Boris Johnson Says 'Owe my Life to NHS Staff'
The 55-year-old issued some directives to Raab as well as senior aides in a series of calls last week, followed by a three-hour meeting with his deputy and staff on Friday. Also Read - Coronavirus: Ailing British PM Boris Johnson Taking 'Short Walks,' His Office Says
“He [Johnson] has had some contact with ministers, but mostly with his private office here at Downing Street,” Robert Jenrick, UK Communities Minister, had told reporters at the daily Downing Street briefing on Saturday.
The newspaper quoted sources to say that while the Prime Minister was still recovering from Covid-19, following his discharge from hospital a week ago, he has been getting “more involved”, including to set out a “direction”.
Raab reportedly visited the UK prime minister at Chequers, along with Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings also back after his self-isolation following symptoms of coronavirus and Lee Cain, his communications director, on Friday.
The meeting was the first time Johnson has spoken to his deputy Raab and senior advisers in person since his discharge from hospital last Sunday.
Other aides and officials, including Eddie Lister, Johnson’s chief strategic adviser, and Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, took part via video conferencing application Zoom.
The reports come as another report in The Sunday Times’ claimed Johnson delayed the UK’s response to the pandemic by missing five emergency Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (COBRA) meetings at the very start of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was forced to defend his boss’ “strong” leadership, as he insisted that the suggestion the PM had “skipped” meetings was “grotesque”.
“The idea that the Prime Minister skipped meetings that are vital to our response to corona is grotesque. There are meetings across government, some which are chaired by the Health Secretary, some chaired by other ministers. The PM took all the major decisions, said Gove.
“No one can suggest the prime minister wasn’t throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus. This leadership has been clear, been inspirational at times. Nothing is more off-beam than the suggestion that the PM was anything other than energetic, focused and strong in his leadership against this virus,” he said.
The first coronavirus case in the UK was confirmed on January 29, with the newspaper referring to sources who say that emergency plans were not activated quick enough. The Sunday Times’ quotes a senior adviser to Downing Street, who broke ranks to blame the weeks of complacency on a failure of leadership.
There’s no way you’re at war if your prime minister isn’t there, the adviser said, as it was alleged that Johnson started chairing the COBRA meeting at a much later stage in the crisis.
The UK’s Opposition Labour Party has picked up on the media report and demanded answers, with shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth saying Gove’s defence of the UK prime minister was possibly the weakest rebuttal of a detailed expose in British political history .
Britain’s official death toll from the virus now stands at 15,464, and the country has been under lockdown since March 23, with the government extending it until at least the end of the month.