Matt Hancock is blamed for early failings of Cobra meetings
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is blamed for early failings of Cobra meetings as government sources claim he didn’t ‘challenge’ his own department’s Covid-19 crisis response
- Whitehall’s coronavirus finger-pointing has thrust Matt Hancock into firing line
- The Health Secretary is accused of poorly chairing the initial Cobra meetings
- Plans have been sketched out for independent minister to take charge in future
Whitehall’s coronavirus finger-pointing has thrust Matt Hancock into the firing line for failing to scrutinise his own department’s early handling of the pandemic.
The Health Secretary is accused of chairing Cobra meetings which did not effectively drill down into the crisis response.
Government sources said the committee did not ‘challenge’ the Department of Health’s Covid-19 preparations when its own Secretary of State was at the helm.
Friends of Mr Hancock have pushed back at these accusations, but the Sunday Telegraph reports that plans have already been sketched out for an independent minister to chair the committee in the future.
The Health Secretary is accused of chairing Cobra meetings which did not effectively drill down into the crisis response
The shake-up will see a cabinet member who bears no responsibility for executing the decisions take control of Cobra, according to the newspaper.
Such figures could include Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove or Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Whitehall’s most senior decision-makers are summoned to Cobra meetings in times of emergency to coordinate out an inter-departmental response.
Current Cabinet Office guidance says a ‘lead government department will be made responsible for the overall management of the government response.
‘In the most serious circumstances, this could involve the activation of COBR to facilitate rapid coordination and collective decision-making.’
It goes on: ‘The Prime Minister, Home Secretary or another senior Minister will normally chair key meetings involving Ministers and officials from relevant departments, as appropriate.’
Boris Johnson delegated planning to Mr Hancock and asked him to chair Cobra
Yet when China was grappling with its outbreak in Wuhan and the UK was bracing for infection to hit its shores, Boris Johnson delegated planning to Mr Hancock and asked him to chair Cobra.
A government figure told the Telegraph these meetings did not ‘challenge’ the Health Department’s response.
But another source came to the Health Secretary’s defence and told the newspaper: ‘To say that Matt went in and said ‘here is my view what I have decided and here’s what we are going to do’ would not be a fair reflection of those meetings.’
Mr Johnson has said there will be an inquiry into the government’s handling of the crisis, which in its early stages was criticised for failing to procure enough PPE and going into lockdown too slow, among other elements.
But a government spokesperson has said ‘there are no plans to change the arrangements’ for who chairs Cobra.
However, as the UK emerges from lockdown, it is expected the finger-pointing in government will intensify.
A senior official told Politico: ‘Obviously the blame game has been going on almost as long as the virus and has been gathering force.
‘As the epidemic wanes, the blame game is going to get more intense. I think the civil service is absolutely expecting that.’
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